Saturday, April 13, 2024

Attorney General now in possession of SBI’s full file on NHCS

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — After three years, an end may be in sight for the SBI investigation into New Hanover County Schools.

The Attorney General’s Office confirmed Friday it is in receipt of the whole file and will review it to “take any appropriate action.” That could include prosecution.

“We don’t consider investigations closed until there is a resolution,” a spokesperson said. “When considering possible actions, our office looks at the range of actions available under the law.”

The office declined to comment on the timeline or areas of investigation since the matter is ongoing.

Following the announcement of Deputy Superintendent Dr. Rick Holliday’s retirement in July 2019, District Attorney Ben David and Sheriff Ed McMahon announced they asked the SBI to look into allegations that administrators broke laws by failing to report sexual abuse and obstructing justice.

This came soon after Michael Kelly pleaded guilty to 59 sex offenses involving 19 victims. The crimes spanned more than 15 years while he was a teacher at Isaac Bear Early College and Laney High School, where Holliday was the principal.

During Kelly’s hearing, New Hanover County Assistant District Attorney Connie Jordan essentially condemned the school system for not acting when complaints were made about Kelly’s behavior.

“It is really concerning and so upsetting and disturbing that even the defendant admitted that he had been accused of exposing himself right when he started at Isaac Bear, that the school had mounted an investigation,” Jordan said at the time. “I could not find any indication that anything had been reported to law enforcement.”

The school district denied it investigated Kelly, according to past Port City Daily reporting. However, numerous accusations that administrators had knowledge of the abuse are documented in news reports and a civil case.

Rhine Law Firm and Lea/Schultz Law Firm are representing victims in a lawsuit against the board of education and administrators Holliday and former superintendent Tim Markley. The complaint details extensive allegations of covering up Kelly’s conduct. The firms are also involved in similar cases related to former Roland-Grise Middle band teacher Peter Frank, who was sentenced to at least 50 years in prison for sex crimes. Kelly is serving 17 to 31 years.

The investigation also is supposed to have examined the case of Nicholas Oates, who was hired at NHCS despite past arrests for violence and sexual assaults against women. He was accused in 2018 of molesting a Myrtle Grove Middle student, but he died of liver failure in custody before trial. NHCS suspended Oates twice, and he silently resigned in 2017, WECT reported in its cover-up series.

DA David shared the following statement: “The District Attorney’s Office is looking forward to hearing the findings and conclusions of the SBI investigation once the Attorney General’s Office has reviewed the file.”

Reach journalist Alexandria Sands at or @alexsands_

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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