Band director: No one told police not to pursue charges

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BELOIT - Beloit Memorial High School (BMHS) Band Director Chris Behrens is denying claims from the Orange County Sheriff's Office that chaperones told Florida authorities sex assault victims' parents did not want to pursue criminal charges.

Allegations of inappropriate touching and sexual abuse were made by two BMHS girls against a freshman boy, during a April 3-9 band trip to Orlando, Florida. A report dated April 7 filed by the Orange County Sheriff's Office includes allegations a freshman boy sexually assaulted a girl during the bus ride to Orlando, and later sexually assaulted a second victim in the stairwell of a hotel.

On Friday, Orange County authorities clarified with the Beloit Daily News what are confusing elements of the initial report due to heavy redactions, with one section of the report seeming to describe a third assault but was in fact a reference to a previously reported incident. Two victims gave statements to deputies, according to a news release issued Thursday by Orange County authorities.

Even so, there is still a degree of confusion over whether there may be a third victim.

Sources that have been reliable in this matter have told the Beloit Daily News there were two assaults which were carried out, and one attempted assault against a third victim. The Florida sheriff's office said Friday the department was "only aware of two alleged victims."

Orange County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Christian Marrero said Thursday detectives asked Beloit police to follow up with parents of the victims, and to ask follow up questions regarding the alleged assaults. The newspaper has been unable to reach the parent of the potential third victim.

Marrero said if any new information comes forward suggesting a need for opening a criminal investigation, an inquiry would be started following the initial informational report taken by Orange County Deputy Eric Lopez on April 7 at the Embassy Suites, 8100 Lake St., Orlando.

The mother of one victim has told the newspaper she has been reaching out to Florida authorities in order to pursue criminal charges.

The sheriff's office news release references two incidents of alleged sexual assault, one while on the bus between Georgia and Tennessee while en route to Orlando, and another at an unspecified location.

According to Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski, the department has been in contact with authorities in Orange County, Florida on Thursday, noting "we have offered our assistance."

Zibolski provided no further comment, and Beloit Strategic Communications Director Sarah Millard said Beloit police would not provide additional updates until Monday afternoon "at the earliest."

When asked to clarify an earlier statement by Zibolski that Beloit police lacked any jurisdiction over the matter, Millard reaffirmed the chief's statement given Tuesday to the Beloit Daily News and said Beloit police would now be involved to "assist the authorities in Florida upon their request."

Florida authorities, in a news release issued Thursday, say the chaperone contacted by deputies told authorities the allegations made by the victims had been reported to the victims' parents, school staff and the district superintendent. The chaperone informed deputies the parents did not wish to pursue criminal charges, the news release said.

In a Thursday interview with the newspaper, though, band director Behrens said he and chaperone Andre DeKok were the two chaperones who called victims' parents, interim principal Emily Pelz as well as law enforcement on Sunday, April 7, immediately after being made aware of the allegations.

Behrens said he never told the Florida deputy that parents didn't want to pursue charges and never heard DeKok say anything like that either.

"Those words were never spoken in my presence. We never told police that," Behrens said.

Behrens said after law enforcement interviewed the girls, he assumed they were going to pass it on to authorities in Beloit. Behrens said he had contacted interim principal Pelz.

Pelz told the Beloit Daily News on Thursday she contacted Darrell Williams, a former assistant superintendent who was recently been transferred and named co-principal of Fruzen Intermediate School, on that Sunday night. She said Williams notified former interim superintendent Donald Childs. Pelz said she also alerted the school's police resource officer.

Childs has recently resigned, under pressure from the school board, with his position being given to Tony Bosco.

Two school board members - Kyle Larsen and Nora Gard - have told the Beloit Daily News the district's governing board was never alerted of the incident. Larsen said he learned an incident had occurred when he read about it in the newspaper and Gard said she heard about it from a private citizen after it was discussed on social media.

As of Thursday evening, the first mother who came forward and talked to the newspaper, said she still had been unable to move forward with filing charges. Beloit police told her it's not their jurisdiction, she said. And her daughter's father spoke with the Orange County deputy who took the report, but was unable to file charges because of confusion over jurisdiction.

The mother said she plans to continue pursuing charges.

A second mother said she was going to be meeting with school officials on Thursday. The newspaper was unable to reach the mother after her meeting to find out what she intended to do next.

Behrens said the alleged perpetrator is part of the Jazz Ensemble, not the Jazz Orchestra which is scheduled to travel and perform in the Essentially Ellington competition in New York this May.

Behrens said the boy dropped the class after the trip and is no longer in the band.

Meanwhile, the School District of Beloit continues to keep a tight lid on the matter.

"The District's ability to disclose confidential information about a particular student is governed by state and federal law. Under the applicable laws, the District is required to maintain the confidentiality of pupil records and information including but not limited to information about student discipline," stated Interim Superintendent Tony Bosco in a press release.

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