Questions left unanswered

Published 10:01 am Thursday, July 19, 2012

AHOSKIE – It wasn’t the response Wayne Melton felt he and his family deserved.

Melton, the father of an 18-year-old daughter who alleges she was propositioned for sex by an employee of Hertford County Public Schools in exchange for a summer job, said a July 9 letter he received from HCPS officials failed to answer eight questions he posed to members of the Hertford County Board of Education.

Despite the lack of answers, Melton said he would not stop seeking the truth of what occurred between his daughter, then a senior at C.S. Brown High School in Winton, and HCPS Community Schools Director Ronald Gatling.

“If they (HCPS officials) performed a thorough investigation into this matter like they claimed they did, then why can’t the school board answer eight simple questions,” Melton said on Monday afternoon during a visit to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald office. “Until I am satisfied that appropriate investigative measures have been conducted, I will not allow this matter to rest.”

Accompanied by his daughter and the teen’s mother, Melton met behind closed doors on June 25 with the Hertford County Board of Education. There, he submitted eight questions for the board to answer. Those inquiries included the extent of the investigation into Gatling’s alleged actions; the decision behind Gatling’s eventual reinstatement; if HCPS officials had informed (by means of a letter) the North Carolina Board of Education of the matter; and inquired of how Gatling was able to continue as an HCPS employee while the State Bureau of Investigation conducted their probe of the allegations against Gatling.

“As was stated several times during the (June 25) meeting, there are laws and policies that govern or control what can be communicated to you,” stated the July 9 response letter sent to Melton, one signed by Dr. Michael D. Perry, the new HCPS Superintendent who at the time of the internal investigation had not yet joined the local school system.

“As in the meeting, most of the above questions could not be addressed during the meeting due to law and policies. Likewise, they cannot be addressed in writing due to these same laws and policies.”

Perry went on to say in the letter, a copy of which Melton presented to this newspaper, that, “The interim Superintendent (Julius Walker) and the board communicated their belief that the investigation was thorough, comprehensive and professional.”

“They further asserted that if any information is uncovered in the future, which we are currently unaware of, we will act responsibly to the new information,” Perry added.

Melton has been at odds with HCPS officials since Gatling was reinstated following a one-week paid suspension while Walker and Ralph Evans, interim HCPS Human Resources Director, conducted an internal investigation.

“I do not like or uphold Mr. Walker’s decision to reinstate Mr. Gatling without performing a thorough investigation,” Melton said during an interview with this newspaper in early June. “An investigation does not consist solely on written statements and interviews with the accused, the victim and her parents. A thorough investigation would include statements and interviews with other students and contacts of HCPS.”

In a statement made June 1 to this newspaper, Walker said the internal investigation performed on the allegations lodged against Gatling, “did not result in the need for further disciplinary action.”

“I performed a judicious investigation that yielded no substantial evidence to warrant dismissal,” stated Walker.

Walker added that during his probe into the matter, information surfaced that “shed new light” regarding the incident which warranted the investigation.

“The allegation of misconduct against Mr. Gatling supposedly took place in late March or early April of this year,” Walker said. “That allegation was made by a female high school student who was not on the campus of the high school in March or April. That student finished their course work early and graduated in December. Technically that person is no longer a student of Hertford County Public Schools.”

That statement also proved upsetting to Melton.

“It’s true that my daughter completed her course work in December of last year, but she graduated on May 19,” Melton noted. “Although she was 18 years of age (at that time), she was still a HCPS student.”

Meanwhile, there is no word from the SBI’s investigation of the allegations lodged against Gatling. The SBI was asked to investigate the matter by Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan.

“The family came to me with the allegations on May 25 and ask me to investigate,” Vaughan said in an earlier interview. “In similar cases I’ve asked the SBI to investigate. Being Mr. Gatling is a county commissioner I’ve ask the SBI to come in to determine if any crime has been committed.”

Melton said on Monday that he appreciated Vaughan’s efforts.

“At least there’s one official in Hertford Countythat has kept me informed, and has not beat around the bush to answer my questions, and that’s Sheriff Vaughan,” Melton said. “I thank him for doing his job.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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