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Anonymous letters question high ranking sheriff’s officials’ ties to NHCS sex scandal

Published: Jun. 16, 2021 at 4:09 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - A series of anonymous letters questioning the behavior of two high ranking members of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office have gotten the attention of the sheriff, school administrators, and the attorneys involved in an ongoing lawsuit against the New Hanover County School Board.

The letters allege suspicious behavior by the law enforcement officers at critical times in the teacher sex abuse scandal, and imply they helped make sure allegations of improper teacher behavior did not result in criminal charges.

These are wide-ranging and, if true, damning accusations. While the letters have prompted an official response, WECT is not publishing the names of the accused employees unless more information supporting the accuracy of these claims is provided. We were able to confirm some of the claims laid out in this letter, but not everything that’s alleged appears to be based on fact.

A May 17 letter to New Hanover County Schools Superintendent Charles Foust begins: “We notified you via the New Hanover County School’s Ethix 360 notification system regarding New Hanover County Sheriff’s Deputy [X] in early April 2021. Deputy [X] was a school resource officer at the time of the incident (Class of 1997-1998), but we’ve now learned he has since been promoted. He volunteered as a chaperone during a Hoggard trip to Washington D.C. where he provided alcohol to minors and engaged in some type of sexual activity with the girls traveling with the group.”

The letter says the principal was made aware of the incident, along with the deputy’s partner and supervisor. It indicates they were shown pictures and cards from the girls on the trip, and that school “made copies for their files under the guise of their investigation.” Despite the reported evidence, no action or criminal charges were filed according to the writer. The following paragraphs come directly from the letter:

“We are concerned for our safety after bringing this information forward after we came upon old pictures, plus it appears the school system and the Sheriff’s Department are still trying to cover this up. The school investigator immediately tried to defer us to the Sheriff’s Department since Deputy [X] was an employee of the Sheriff’s Department. He told us to contact [the other high ranking sheriff’s official implicated in these letters].”

“We advised him of the ‘in loco parentis’ status of Deputy [X] on the trip, but he did not seem to understand the concept or either he intentionally did not want to. It was obvious in his responses he did not even want to take this criminal complaint or information. However, in the last exchange, the school investigator requested we provide proof of the allegation but then still referred us to the Sheriff’s Department. Why would he want proof if he’s not going to do anything about it? It was so the school system could prepare for what’s coming and to give the Sheriff’s Department a heads up, not to actually do any thing about the incident or Deputy [X].”

“After some time, we wrote directly to you and the Sheriff’s Training and Standards Division requesting help in getting Deputy [X]’s authority stripped from him for his actions against the underage kids so we could protect future children. We also asked that he not be allowed to investigate anything with the school system.. During this time we were notified that the school investigator was helping the Principal understand how to lose or misplace files that could be potentially damaging to the school system in the future. This reportedly was and is talked about openly within the school office.”

“[High ranking sheriff’s official]’s actions in helping Rick Holliday and Tim Markley meet their coconspirator, Michael Kelly, in the jail needs to also be investigated. If a deputy was actually present (Port City Daily Article dated August 2, 2019), what’s his/her name? Did [high ranking sheriff’s official] order the jail personnel to violate the American Correctional Association (ACA) standards and their own jail policy by not signing them in to see Michael Kelly? Did [high ranking sheriff’s official] actually comply with Rick Holliday’s request to specifically be in a non-recorded room? This Deputy can confirm what the conversation between the three was really about.”

“If there was no deputy present, why would [high ranking sheriff’s official] order and allow this to take place? Why wouldn’t the school attorney(s) notify Michael Kelly of his termination since he was in jail instead of Rick Holliday and Tim Markley personally making the notification? Why wouldn’t Rick Holliday and Tim Markley interview Michael Kelly via the phone system that the public has to use during visitations?”

“They were given special treatment. This does not pass the smell test! More of [high ranking sheriff’s official]’s actions, inactions, and interference seem to be coming to light as this moves forward. [High ranking sheriff’s official]’s communication with the school’s investigator needs to be fully investigated as well due to the school’s investigator immediately deferring us to [high ranking sheriff’s official].”

A separate letter to the sheriff and school superintendent, which appears to be written after the May 17 letter, goes into more specific details about allegations of a conspiracy between the high ranking sheriff’s official and school administrators to cover up evidence of sexual abuse by Michael Kelly. The authors say that years ago, a student was “accosted by Teacher Kelly.” The letter says that a detective took notes about the incident, but nothing was ever done.

“After some years passed, we were told by teacher [X] that she had heard Holliday and [high ranking sheriff’s official] commenting about our child’s sexual orientation, him being ‘light in his loafers,’ and ‘he was of age,’” the letter states. “Apparently, the teacher-student relationship did not matter to them as they swept it under the rug and were done with this situation. Sadly, our child is no longer with us. We’ve become completely pissed off about the handling of this whole situation as we continue to learn more and more about the multiple continued cover-ups by the school system and the Sheriff’s Department.”

The letter writer goes on to allege that [high ranking sheriff’s official] was a school resource officer at Laney when Holliday was an assistant principal, and later became a detective over the schools when Holliday was principal. It states that the two became good friends, and worked together to cover up allegations of teacher abuse.

The letter claims that when [high ranking sheriff’s official] was in charge of the detective’s unit, he implemented a policy that detectives create Gmail accounts, and use them instead of their county emails to circumvent public records requests. The authors claim this policy went into effect around the time of Kelly’s arrest.

The second letter concludes by saying that they are awaiting the arrival of a picture from the aforementioned Washington, D.C. field trip Deputy [X] allegedly chaperoned, along with a list of students who were present on that trip. The author claims that the two sheriff’s officials in question have denied the trip ever took place, but this picture will publicly prove that it did.

On Monday, the attorneys suing the New Hanover County School Board on behalf of plaintiffs who have claimed they were sexually abused by Mike Kelly made a plea to the public in response to these letters:

“The attorneys who represent the victims of Michael Kelly request that the author(s) of these letters forward a copy to them and reach out to them to speak about the allegations. The attorneys also encourage anyone with knowledge of Kelly’s actions at Laney and Isaac Bear Early College High School to come forward and speak with them, including former teachers, parents, and students who may have information important to the lawsuit. The letters and all contacts should be directed to the following attorneys: Martin A. Ramey, Esq. Rhine Law Firm, P.C. mjr@rhinelawfirm.com Mary Charles Amerson, Esq. The Lea/Schultz Law Firm, P.C. mc@theleaschultzlawfirm.com 1612 Military Cutoff Road, Suite 300 Wilmington, NC 28405,” a press release from the attorneys reads.

New Hanover County Schools provided the following response to the allegations leveled in the anonymous letters:

“NHCS is committed to providing a safe learning environment for all students. The School District shared the report of misconduct that allegedly occurred 20 years ago with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. The alleged offender is not currently an NHCS employee.”

The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Department is also seeking additional information regarding these specific allegations, and sent WECT the following statement:

“The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous complaint from the New Hanover County School System against a School Resource Officer from 1998. The complaint was thoroughly investigated and Sheriff McMahon has not been able to substantiate these anonymous allegations. Sheriff McMahon has also spoken to Sheriff McQueen, the Sheriff during 1998, who advised that he had never received any such complaint. Sheriff McMahon has worked with the school system and responded back to this anonymous complainant, requesting that he be contacted personally with any additional information.”

WECT attempted to reach the teacher mentioned in the letter, who allegedly heard Holliday and the high ranking sheriff’s official discussing the sexual orientation and age of the child allegedly accosted by Kelly, but that teacher passed away several years ago. Without being able to consult with her to verify what she did or did not tell the parents, we did not include the teacher’s name in this story.

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