No. 6 Crime Story of the Year: Coach accused of sex assault gets deal
GREEN FOREST -- A former coach and teacher's aide at Green Forest High School walked free after admitting to battering a 17-year-old girl early this year, becoming Carroll County News' No. 6 crime story of 2012.
Coach Andrew Ray, of Berryville, was charged in April with second-degree sexual assault, a Class B felony, after a student alleged he had assaulted and groped her in the Green Forest High School field house.
On Oct. 10, the sexual assault charges were dropped in exchange for Ray's pleading guilty to third-degree battery, a Class A misdemeanor.
He was given a one-year suspended sentence for the crime and ordered to hand over his teaching license and $1,170 in fines and fees.
Among the terms of his suspended sentence were requirements that he maintain a job and abstain from drugs, alcohol, weapons, and criminal activity. Unless he violates these conditions, he will remain a free man.
Ray had been a boys' basketball and girls' softball coach at Green Forest High School, where he also taught an alternative learning class. He resigned in March, after the allegations of abuse surfaced.
Authorities were first notified of those allegations in February. Court documents show that one of the victims' parents called the Child Abuse Hotline on Feb. 16.
The case was passed on to Kevin Estes, an investigator with the Crimes Against Children Division of the Arkansas State Police, who called Det. Tom Hayden of the Green Forest Police Department.
Police Chief John Bailey told Hayden to pass the information along to Green Forest Sgt. Gaylon Riggs, who is also the resource officer at the high school. Riggs began investigating that same day.
On Feb. 17, the victim was interviewed by forensic interviewer Michelle Steiner. Estes, Hayden and Riggs watched via video.
The victim told Steiner she had been in the field house the previous morning, doing laundry, when Ray approached from behind and tried to pull her pants down.
She resisted, she said, but Ray succeeded in disrobing and groping her. He relented when she continued to struggle. She told Steiner she left as quickly as possible after finishing the laundry.
When she left the field house, she said, Ray followed her to her next class and peered in the window while she sat in the room.
This was not the first instance of inappropriate behavior by Ray, the victim told investigators.
During a Feb. 21 interview, she told Steiner that Ray had frequently flirted with and harassed female students, often slapping their rears with his hand or keys as they left the school bus. She said the behavior disturbed many of the girls and had even led the cheerleading team to make a pact to all exit the bus at the same time.
She said that a friend of hers had told her of also being assaulted by Ray.
During the interview that day, she described at least five occasions over the previous six months when she had been harassed by Ray.
Cheerleading coach Vicky Brown witnessed one of these incidents and later described it to investigators. It had occurred the previous year, on a basketball trip, she said.
Ray had been sitting behind the bus driver, with the victim in the seat behind him. Brown sat across the aisle. She described seeing Ray throw what appeared to be a candy wrapper down the victim's shirt. She said she told the girl to zip up her jacket and gave Ray a disapproving look.
On Feb. 17, after hearing of the field house incident, Brown assembled her cheerleaders and asked them if they had ever been touched inappropriately by Ray. Brown said the girls responded that they avoided the coach because his flirtatious behavior made them uncomfortable.
When asked why she had not told anyone of Ray's behavior before, the victim told investigators the coach and his wife were acquaintances of her family's.
Carroll County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers recused himself from the case early in the investigation because of a conflict of interest -- handing the prosecution over to Baxter County Prosecuting Attorney Ron Kincade.