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Charlottesville law enforcement reverses course: School district 'appropriately' handled sexual assault allegation

Charlottesville law enforcement authorities met with city school officials on Tuesday regarding an allegation of sexual assault on school grounds, and whether the school division had broken law by failing to report it.

After receiving specifics, both Police Chief Michael Kochis and Commonwealth’s Attorney Joseph Platania came away from the discussion satisfied with Charlottesville City School’s response.

“School staff shared details of the alleged incident with law enforcement,” reads a Wednesday statement from the police department. “As a result of receiving these details, Chief Kochis and Commonwealth Attorney Platania agreed that CCS handled the alleged incident appropriately within the confines of the law.”

The statement did not provide further details of the alleged incident because it involves juveniles. It has never been made public at which city school the incident allegedly took place.

“I can’t give too many details, because it’s involving children and folks in the school,” Kochis told The Daily Progress on Thursday, calling the nearly two-hour-long meeting with school officials “really, really good” and “very productive.”

“The specifics of the incident that was described was absolutely handled appropriately by the school, and it just didn’t fall within what the code said,” Kochis added.

Weeks ago, it was not clear Kochis and law enforcement would reach that conclusion.

The assault allegation was first brought to the attention of the police and commonwealth’s attorney’s office by Courteney Stuart’s WINA radio program "Charlottesville Right Now." During Stuart’s Nov. 21 interview with Regine Wright, the school division’s former coordinator of safety and security, Wright made special note of a “sexual assault not being reported by the school” before declining to provide additional detail.

Wright’s claim was of such concern to law enforcement that they sent a letter to Superintendent Royal Gurley days later, raising the possibility that Charlottesville City Schools had violated Virginia Code by not reporting the allegation.

That letter, penned by Kochis and Platania, referred to a specific section of Virginia Code: 22.1-279.3:1.

“Our reading of that Code Section requires a principal to ‘immediately report to the local law enforcement agency any incident described in Section A3-A7.’ Paragraph D requires the principal or their designee to also notify the superintendent of the school division of any such incidents and sets forth potential sanctions for non-compliance,” they wrote.

The Nov. 27 letter, first obtained by Stuart, indicated that both Kochis and Platania were concerned Charlottesville City Schools may had violated the law.

“To this date, the Charlottesville Police Department has not received any formal notification about this alleged incident,” Kochis and Platania wrote at the time. “If a specified incident is alleged to have occurred, the law requires an immediate report to the Charlottesville Police Department.”

Whatever Kochis and Platania were told in Tuesday’s meeting apparently assuaged their concerns, allowing them to reach the conclusion that the incident did not rise to a level that would need to be reported to law enforcement.

When contacted for further details, Platania declined to comment beyond the contents of Wednesday’s statement from the Charlottesville Police Department.

“As we have said all along, we’re confident that we handled the alleged incident correctly, because we followed our policies and procedures and because we consulted with our attorney for close guidance as we were addressing the incident,” school division spokeswoman Beth Cheuk told The Daily Progress.

Cheuk was referring to a previous statement provided to The Daily Progress shortly after Kochis and Platania’s letter was made public.

“Our policies and practices are in alignment with Virginia state code and Virginia School Board Association policy. We take any reports — even third-hand reports — of sexual assault seriously, and we follow our policies, procedures, and legal obligations with fidelity and in careful consultation with legal counsel,” the division said at the time.

Immediately after Wright’s comments, Stuart interviewed Cheuk and Gurley. The pair said it had “worked very thoroughly to investigate” the allegation.

“We worked extremely closely with our lawyer just to be certain that we were in fact handling it correctly,” Cheuk told Stuart on WINA. “When we concluded that investigation, we did not find that there was sexual assault, and both the involved students and their families supported our findings.”

Cheuk reiterated that message on Thursday.

“After learning more about the incident and our handling of it, Chief Kochis and Mr. Platania indicated that they too share our confidence that we handled it correctly,” she said.

“You’ll note that neither our language nor the police statement refer to an alleged assault, but an alleged incident,” Cheuk continued, perhaps indicating that the incident did not rise to the level of assault.

According to Kochis, he and Platania only wrote their letter to Gurley after hearing Wright’s interview.

“We heard that and that spurred our letter to the school to say, ‘Hey, this is our interpretation of Virginia state code,’ and we wanted to meet to make sure we were all on the same sheet of music,” Kochis said, adding that Gurley contacted him immediately after receiving the letter.

The group had tried to set up a meeting earlier but had scheduling conflicts over the holidays. Kochis said that he and Gurley have always had a good relationship and that he continues to work with the school to ensure that “everyone is safe.”

“The big point from all of this is the importance of an open line of communication between us and the schools,” Kochis said, noting that Charlottesville City Schools removed school resource officers from grounds in 2020. “We’re here to make sure those kids are safe and we all have same goal.”

“They provided us details about the alleged incident and Platania and myself were satisfied that they handled the incident appropriately and within confines of the law,” Kochis said.


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