What 3 Hallettsville officials tried to conceal is now coming to light

Editors Note:

We received re-indictment paperwork from the Lavaca County District Clerk sent to the Newscenter 25 newsroom. After reading all three indictment documents, one for each defendant, Newscenter 25 photographer, Alan Espejel called District Attorney, John Stuart Fryer, to clarify why the second indictment was submitted and by whom. Fryer said that we may paraphrase him but he does not wish to be quoted directly nor will he make himself available for interviews with the media during the investigation lest any of his statements sway the jurors before the trial. Newscenter 25 reporter, David Gibson visited the county clerks’ office to obtain the name and contact information of defendant’s lawyer. Newscenter 25’s Executive Producer-Digital, Bria Woods, spoke with James Reeves, the attorney representing Scott Cottenoir regarding why the second indictment was submitted. We will contact the other two lawyers this week.

New developments in a Hallettsville case that put three educators in some pretty hot water.

A re-indictment by the Lavaca County District Attorney’s Office goes into more detail regarding the investigation into the three Hallettsville ISD employees who are formally accused of failing to report abuse involving a child.

The new indictment can be read here for Cottenoir, Bickham, and Cook.

This new indictment explains that the three defendants:

“had cause to believe that a child has been abused, as defined by Section 261.001 of the Texas Family Code, by John Doe, a pseudonym and Richard Roe, a pseudonym, which occurred at the Best Western Hondo Inn, in Hondo, Medina County, Texas on or about March 2, 2019.”

James Reeves, the attorney representing Scott Cottenoir, objected to the first indictment because he found it “vague and provided very little notice to us as to what he specifically did to allegedly violate the law and made a motion to quash,” Mr. Reeves said in a statement.

The first indictment for Scott Cottenoir can be read here.

“In Texas, an accused person must object to the indictment if there is a problem or else the objection is waived. Since the vagueness of the indictment allowed for multiple prosecutions for the same alleged conduct as well as failed to give us notice of exactly what he allegedly did, we objected. Once we objected, the State had two options. They could re-indict to eliminate the objections or they could leave it as is and we would have had a hearing to see if the court agreed with our objections. The State chose to re-indict in Mr. Cottenoir’s case,” Mr. Reeves explained.

You can read the motion to quash here.

The first indictment also did not mention the two perpetrators of the abuse, Doe and Roe, or that the abuse took place at the Best Western Hondo Inn.

In addition to not reporting the abuse, the indictment says:

“in the commission of the offense, the three defendants intended to conceal the abuse.”

Abuse is defined in the indictment as constituting

“a mental or emotional injury to a child that resulted in an observable and material impairment in the child’s growth, development and psychological functioning, and physical injury that resulted in substantial harm to the child, and sexual conduct harmful to the child’s mental, emotional and physical welfare.”

Newscenter 25 first reported, in early May, that the three Hallettsville ISD employees were indicted for failure to report an abuse case involving a child.

District Attorney, John Stuart Fryer, explained that factually speaking, the details between the original indictment and the re-indictment are the same. Legally speaking however, the first indictment was not written in a way that satisfied the grand jury, which lead to the submission of the new indictment.

Fryer also explained that normally failure to report abuse by a school official would be a misdemeanor, but because of the nature of the alleged crime the indictment has been amended to make it a state jail felony.

The defendants, if found guilty, could face a minimum of six months in jail up to a maximum of two years.

Hallettsville High School Principal Darrin Alexander Bickham, Assistant Principal Scott Eugene Cottenoir, and head baseball coach Calvin Edward Cook have been indicted for knowingly failing to “make a report as provided in Chapter 261 of the Texas Family Code,” as stated in the indictment.

The three Hallettsville ISD employees violated a state law that requires educators to report such cases to law enforcement.

Many members of the community vocalized their concerns over the three school officials being allowed to continue working at the high school after being set free from jail on bond. Some parents organized and drafted a petition to have them removed.

A special school board meeting held in May approved outside counsel to conduct a Title IX investigation, also defined as an investigation of sexual discrimination or harassment.

However, no clarification was made if this hire would be for the investigation in question.

To date, the three men have not been suspended from their positions at Hallettsville High School.

The Lavaca County Judge has set a tentative trial date for Scott Cottenoir for September 9 th . At this point it is not clear if each defendant is being tried separately or together. We do know that court dates have not been set for Alexander Bickham or Calvin Cook.