WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — New Hanover County’s district attorney and sheriff have asked the State Bureau of Investigation to look into how the school district handled the case of a former teacher who pleaded guilty last week to dozens of sex crimes involving students.
In a news release District Attorney Ben David said he and Sheriff Ed McMahon asked SBI to investigate whether there was a violation in law, including the handling of sexual offense claims allegedly brought to the attention of New Hanover County Schools administration.
Last week Michael Kelly pleaded guilty to 59 separate sexual offenses involving 19 victims over a period of more than 15 years while he was a teacher at Laney High School and Isaac Bear Early College. Prosecutors say during questioning by FBI agents right before his arrest last year Kelly alluded to an internal school district investigation that he claimed cleared him of any wrongdoing. That led sheriff’s office investigators to talk to Kelly the day after his guilty plea. They had been unable to to talk to him before then until the cases were resolved because of his right to remain silent.
“In light of information learned, we requested for the State Bureau of Investigation to conduct an investigation of the school administration’s handling of the Kelly matter,” David said in a statement. “Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office received information from members of the public detailing similar allegations unrelated to the Kelly case. The Sheriff’s Office opened an investigation into these allegations as well but now believes, as I do, that they should be
reviewed by outside agents with the SBI.”
David said a formal request has also been made to the North Carolina Attorney General’s
Office to serve in an advisory capacity as the SBI conducts its investigation and, if needed, prosecute any violations of the law.
David said the outside investigation and handling of any prosecution is necessary because members of his staff and the sheriff’s office may be interviewed about the facts of the underlying sexual assault case, which would create a conflict of interest.
“An examination of the facts by outside investigators and a review of the evidence by outside prosecutors will remove even the appearance of impropriety and should satisfy the concerns that any decision is based upon facts and law and not based upon long standing relationships of professionals whose very oaths of office put them in constant communication with each other. Everyone in the community should welcome a thorough review of these troubling allegations by agencies with no local ties,” David said.
The DA’s announcement comes hours after New Hanover County Schools Deputy Superintendent Rick Holliday announced his retirement after 37 years with the district. Among Holliday’s duties as deputy superintendent was handling Title IX issues, including allegations of sexual abuse. Holliday also served as principal at Laney for several years, including when Kelly was a teacher there.
The New Hanover County School Board issued a statement following its closed session meeting on Monday, saying:
“To reiterate prior statements from the district, the New Hanover County Board of Education strongly and completely condemns the actions of Michael Earl Kelly who pled guilty last week to numerous crimes. The Board expresses our sorrow to all the victims and their families affected by Kelly’s heinous acts. In light of allegations made against New Hanover County Schools during the recent sentencing of Kelly, the NHC Board of Education has launched an internal investigation into incidents that allegedly occurred in 2006. We will continue to fully cooperate with any and all ongoing investigations. Once the investigations are complete, we will take appropriate action.”