Could Park Tudor School or its attorneys be in legal trouble for their handling of allegations of an inappropriate relationship between its former basketball coach and one of its students?
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Friday he could not say whether the school or its legal counsel could face charges in the inquiry, which led on Thursday to the arrest of former coach Kyle Cox on a charge of coercion and enticement. The 30-page criminal complaint against Cox said the school and a school attorney impeded authorities after they launched their investigation late last year.
“Everything is still on the table,” said Tim Horty, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler. “The investigation is not complete.”
The complaint said the school and the attorney received copies of sexually explicit photos and text messages from the 15-year-old victim's father on Dec. 14 but did not turn them over to authorities until Jan. 7, when a search warrant was served at the school.
“These agencies—law enforcement and [Department of Child Services]—did not know before the search at the school that the attorney retained copies of the visual depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct and the related communications,” according to the complaint.
The Ice Miller attorney representing Park Tudor was Michael Blickman, a partner in the firm's labor and employment group, WTHR-TV Channel 13 reported. Blickman and school headmaster Matthew Miller met with the victim's father on Dec. 14, after he discovered troubling messages and photos on his daughter's phone and contacted the school.
One day later, the school signed a confidentiality agreement with Cox, 31, that allowed him to resign and barred him from discussing reasons for his departure. Cox had been the basketball coach since 2009 and led the team to state 2A championships in 2014 and 2015.
Judy Okenfuss, an Ice Miller managing partner, declined to comment on Friday. “In order to protect client privacy and adhere to our ethical obligations, no additional information will be provided at this time,” she said in a written statement.
An Indiana University law professor said the school's handling of the matter was troubling from a moral and ethical standpoint.
“We all need to be vigilant and mindful of teenagers and their particular vulnerabilities, and that includes Park Tudor,” said Jennifer Drobac, a professor at the IU McKinney School of Law who specializes in juvenile consent. “As soon as they knew about this, I think they had an ethical and moral duty, if not a legal one, to safeguard this child. That means cooperating with the police, if that’s not already obvious.”
A school employee submitted a report of suspected child abuse to the state on Dec. 15. But the person filling it out “claimed to not know if pictures were exchanged between Cox and the student,” according to the complaint. The report also did not say that the school or anyone else had a record of the text messages or other communication between Cox and the student.
When a detective spoke with the school's attorney, the attorney “advised that he was unable to help because of what he said were privileged communications,” according to the complaint.
Drobac said attorney-client privilege doesn’t work like that.
“An attorney does have an obligation to protect the confidences of a client revealed in the course of counseling that client,” Drobac said. “An attorney cannot accept evidence of criminal conduct and keep that secret as a confidence. You can’t use attorney-client privilege to thwart police.”
Park Tudor’s headmaster was Matthew Miller, who committed suicide Jan. 23.
The school’s spokeswoman, Cathy Chapelle, said Thursday the school was fully cooperating with authorities.
"While we are aware of the contents of the criminal complaint, it is not appropriate for us to comment on the specifics of an ongoing criminal matter," she said in a written statement. "We reported the allegations against Mr. Cox to Child Protective Services within 24 hours, and we are fully cooperating with the police investigation. The safety of our students continues to be our top priority."