The New KKK
Libby Rose trusted Tommy Granger. She'd always looked up to him. When she was a little girl, her older brothers played football, and Granger was a coach. When she got older, she'd go to the pool at Alice Keith Park where he worked, and she talked to him, thought of him as a mentor.
"I would always look at him, you know, like, dang, he's cool, I want to be cool with him," she says. "And when I got older in middle school I would get attention when I'd go to the park."
She liked the attention, and when she turned 14 and became a freshman at Ozen High School in Beaumont, she got even more of it. Granger, then 38 years old, supervised the Special Assignments Class, a form of in-school suspension. Libby wasn't perfect; she wound up in SAC a lot.
But Granger made it worthwhile. "He'd always give me hall passes, a book of hall passes," she says. "I could write my own passes to go wherever I wanted." When she did stay in SAC, he would have her come up to the front of the class, sit right by him and pass notes, according to a recent lawsuit filed on behalf of Libby (whose name has been changed for this story). Granger had heard a rumor that she'd been having sex, she says, and he asked her who she would tell if they messed around, always tearing up the notes in little pieces after they'd been read. He wrote that he'd heard she "tasted good" and told her she needed to have oral sex "done right," according to the lawsuit. One time he had her come into his office, where, according to the lawsuit, he showed her a homemade certificate, emblazoned with the colors of Ozen High, that said, "Tommy 'Bozo' Granger, Father of 3K."
3K stood for the Koochie Kissing Klick, a group of varsity football players on campus; to be part of the clique, a guy had to go down on a girl while other members watched. This was often achieved, according to the lawsuit, by getting freshmen and sophomore girls drunk and stoned at a house called the Bat Cave, where parties were frequent and where Granger was known to hang out.
Byron Aaron Bell, who had graduated while Libby was in eighth grade, was a member of 3K. Any doubt? Just check his MySpace page, where you'll see him holding up a medallion bearing the name of the clique.
One day Bell came up to the school, walked into SAC and went straight into Granger's office, according to the lawsuit. Granger told Libby to go into the office, where Bell went down on her, according to the lawsuit, but other students and administrators were nearby, so they moved to a field house. Five minutes later Granger came in, she says, and Bell told him that Libby wasn't wearing any underwear and that she had cute breasts.
She showed them her breasts, Libby says, and they proceeded to have a sucking contest, each taking a nipple, racing to see who could make it hard first. Granger then told Libby to "stay here so you and me can do something," according to the lawsuit, but she left to have lunch with Bell. When she returned, she says, Granger was angry with her.
But he still had her trust. He arranged for Libby to hook up with other members of 3K, according to the lawsuit, and he always asked her to describe those encounters in vivid detail.
"He was so good with the kids," recalls Libby's mom. "Never in a million years I would've thought he would've done something like this.
"I looked up to him."
There's something funny going on in Beaumont, and we're not talking about open-mike night at the local comedy club. The Libby Rose incident is but one of many scandals that have plagued Ozen High over the last few years.
Last month several coaches were accused of watching a porno on the Ozen campus; their little viewing party was exposed after the DVD got stuck in the player and they asked a janitor for help.
"I don't think that's a crime, unless they negligently allowed some kids to see that," says Ed Shettle, Jefferson County assistant district attorney, who acknowledges the incident doesn't make the district look very good, especially in light of other recent events at Ozen.
This past August it was discovered that a convicted sex offender, Leonard Ward, had been helping out at football practices. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety's sex offender database, Ward received six years of probation in the '90s for aggravated sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl. BISD Superintendent Carroll Thomas told the board of trustees that someone would be held accountable for allowing Ward access to students; nothing has happened so far, unless you count the recent demotion of head coach John Clayton.
Clayton confirmed to Beaumont media that Ward was a volunteer for the football team from 2001 to 2005. What didn't get reported was Clayton's own arrest in 1979, when a 13-year-old girl accused him of raping her at Odom Junior High. That complaint was eventually dismissed at the girl's request, according to county records obtained by the Houston Press.
This month Clayton was reassigned to a teaching position at Smith Middle School.
Clayton and Ward aren't the only ones with questionable pasts. Last year, The Beaumont Examiner, a weekly paper, took the district's list of approved substitute teachers and cross-referenced it with public criminal records.
"The results included eight instances of DWI, six drug-related charges, five instances of theft or robbery, two instances of carrying an unlawful weapon, one for evading arrest, one for resisting arrest, one assault and one sexual assault," according to an article written by reporter Jerry Jordan.
Among those on the list of approved subs were Michael Lineal McClain, who in 2004 was sentenced to eight years in prison for the rape of a 16-year-old girl in Orange, causing the girl to suffer vaginal and rectal penetration, bruising and tearing, according to court records; James William Jubert, who had multiple convictions for drug possession and who, according to a police report, kicked in his sister's door and threatened to kill her with a steak knife in 2002; and Alton Joseph Jones, who had a felony criminal record that involved a shooting at a high school basketball game in 1989.
When the Press sent Beaumont ISD a request under the Texas Public Information Act, we learned the district's sole method of doing background checks on its employees is the Texas DPS criminal history database. This database relies on self-reporting by counties and is rife with errors and omissions. (See "Bad Checks," by Keith Plocek, Houston Press, July 6.) If a district doesn't supplement the DPS system with another means of screening employees, it's not tough for bad people to slip through the cracks.
But a proper background check will only tell a district about folks with criminal histories.
In 2002 Ozen band director Ferguson Parker was charged with sexual assault of a child and indecent exposure. He was placed on administrative leave but was eventually acquitted of any wrongdoing, reinstated and given back pay by the district.
"It was a bench trial and one of our district judges decided there wasn't enough there to convince him," says Shettle. "And then [Parker] went and [allegedly] did the same thing. He was empowered. So we have another case. And the momma of the little girl is our star witness."
The mother allegedly found Parker in her daughter's closet wearing only his basketball shorts and socks. "She sensed that something was out of the ordinary so she walked into her daughter's room," according to court records. "As she was looking for a piece of luggage in her daughter's closet, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye towards the floor. [She] stated that she then looked down and observed a male, who had rolled himself up into a little ball and was trying to hide."
The alleged affair reportedly started in 2003, when the girl was only 15 years old. Over the next two years, Parker and the girl called each other at least 475 times, according to court records. Parker got married to another woman halfway through the affair, but he allegedly assured the girl he wanted their relationship to continue.
That case is scheduled for trial sometime early next year.
"I'm really ashamed," says Shettle, "that we've got all these problems over at the high school."
Tommy Granger and Byron Bell were arrested this August, five years after the alleged incident with Libby Rose in the Ozen field house. Granger was charged with indecency with a child and Bell with sexual assault. They are now both out on bond.
Libby Rose is suing Granger and Beaumont ISD in civil court for sexual assault and negligence, among other things. Fed up with feeling ignored by the district, the Rose family hired Pearland-based attorney Peggy Bittick, who sent the district a letter in October demanding a settlement of $1.25 million. "BISD did not appropriately respond to specific complaints about [Libby Rose]," the letter stated. "BISD was tacitly and deliberately indifferent to the sexually charged and sexually hostile environment pervasive at Ozen High School between employees and students and between students and former/current students."
The district balked; Bittick filed suit last month.
Neither Granger nor Bell could be reached for comment. Attempts to find them at the addresses listed on their driver's licenses were unsuccessful; in each case, our reporter was told the individual in question didn't live there. Bell's lawyer did not return our repeated calls. Granger's lawyer spoke briefly with the Press.
"Bottom line right now: Mr. Granger has denied each and every allegation or charges that are against him, and we're going to fight it," says attorney Byron Keith Watson. "And we feel that when a person gets up in front of a newspaper or on TV and makes all these statements, it kind of prejudices some people, but most people -- at least the ones I'm going to make sure get on this jury -- are going to have to understand that there's no presumption of guilt in America."
Jefferson County records show this isn't the first time Granger has seen legal trouble. He's been slapped with successful paternity suits by two women, the first in 1991 and the second in 1999. If you do the math on the first case, Granger's son was conceived when dad was 26 and mom was barely 18.
When the Press contacted Beaumont ISD in August, spokeswoman Jolene Ortego said the district didn't even know the Koochie Kissing Klick existed until after Granger and Bell had been arrested. That might be the case, but a document obtained by the Press indicates the district had been aware for at least a year of Libby's allegations that she'd been sexually assaulted by a teacher at Ozen.
These allegations first surfaced two years ago, after Libby had been sentenced to the Texas Youth Commission for assaulting a female teacher on campus. All the records from the incident are sealed and the county isn't allowed to comment on the specifics of juvenile cases, but Libby and her attorney offered a limited version of the tale to the Press. It goes like this:
A teacher was shoving her from behind, so Libby threw her hands up and accidentally struck the teacher in the face. "She said that I just turned around and just punched her," says Libby. "And the type of person I am, and I don't mean to sound like I'm crazy, but I would've said, 'Yeah I hit her. She shouldn't have been pushing me.' But I was like, 'Man, I didn't hit that crazy woman,' you know, because I really didn't."
The jury didn't see it that way, and Libby was shipped off to juvie for a year.
As part of her rehabilitation, Libby had to tell her life story to a caseworker in 2004. And that's when she first disclosed what allegedly happened to her during her freshman year.
"So at that point, CPS is involved, the detectives are going and there's a contact with the school district in 2004," says Bittick, attorney for the Rose family. "And then we have several subsequent contacts that the family makes."
When Libby got out of TYC, she still needed a few credits for her high school diploma; she could've gotten the credits while in juvie, she says, but she wanted a "free-world diploma." In May 2005, Libby's mom, who was a teacher's assistant with the district, told Beth Fischenich, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools, that Libby couldn't attend summer school at Ozen because she had been sexually molested by a teacher there, according to the lawsuit. Fischenich asked which teacher it was and then told Libby's mom not to worry, according to the lawsuit, because Granger wasn't teaching there that summer. No investigation ensued.
The Rose family further contends that some of Libby's credits wound up missing from her transcript, alleging this happened as retribution for Libby's assault on the female teacher.
The Press has obtained a copy of a letter, stamped "received" by the district on August 24, 2005, that indicates BISD was aware of Libby's accusations of sexual assault more than a year ago. The letter was penned by Libby's mom to Anita Watson, Director of Special Education, and discussed why she didn't want to work at Ozen: "due to my child being sexual [sic] assaulted by a teacher that is still employed by BISD and presently at Ozen." No investigation ensued.
The Beaumont ISD administration has declined to offer comment to the Press now that it has been sued, although the district did respond to a request, under the Texas Public Information Act, for basic information about Tommy Granger's employment. Granger had worked as a district aide for seven years before he was arrested. During that time, he never had a teaching certificate, but that's not required to supervise the Special Assignments Class where he and Libby allegedly used to pass notes.
The Press cornered a couple of trustees at a recent school board meeting and managed to speak briefly with Vice President Woodrow Reece about teachers mixing with students at Ozen.
"Things happen at all schools," he says. "It happens in all school districts. And the limelight seems to fall upon Ozen at this moment."
But "we do not tolerate that and we will not tolerate it. We try to give a person the opportunity to do their job, but once they get out of hand, they will be removed from the school district and the authorities are in control after that."
In the movie North Country, a fictionalized account of a landmark sexual harassment case, Woody Harrelson plays a lawyer who sums up what a lot of people think when a woman accuses a man of violating her: "It's the nuts or sluts defense -- you're either crazy, or you deserved it."
Even though Libby was only 14 years old at the time of her alleged sexual assault, that attitude seems to pervade the city of Beaumont. Last month the Press sent MySpace messages to more than 100 girls whose profiles indicated they went to Ozen at the same time as Libby, asking them if they knew anything about 3K and Granger. Some of the responses we received weren't too sympathetic -- at least not to Libby.
Here are selections from a few, cleaned up for grammar and spelling:
"[Granger] was a great influence to all the students at Ozen and it's impossible for people even to think he did that... I've asked many teachers and they said that the girl, when she was at Ozen, was crazy and a liar."
"All that I know about the group was that anyone who took part in any activities were willing participants. As far as I know, there were no teachers who took part in any of the activities, and all of the faculty knew about them."
"At the time the girl was 14. But the type of person she is and the things she does -- it didn't surprise me. I know her personally. That's probably why the school district didn't really care about the situation... [Granger] messed with anything that had a you-know-what, but I always saw him messing with grown women, not young."
"I knew a few members of the clique. They were really nice people who all had a common interest, but I do know that none of them were aggressive... If you didn't want to, they left it at that."
"It never was an organization that forced females to do sexual favors on guys or girls. No one was forced to do anything that they didn't want to do. The girls were asked if they wanted these favors done and guys joined on their own."
"If no one can bring up any hard evidence to prove the other party wrong, then it is just hearsay, and why has it taken all of these years for something to finally surface? Why couldn't this have occurred when this incident first arose? ...The girl in the 3K case who is making these accusations graduated in my class and was well known as a fighter and a damned good one at that; she never lost a fight -- boy or girl. If she was being forced, someone would have gotten hurt. I also understand that despite her consensually having sex with him it is wrong to have sex with a minor. However, this guy is not the type to go out and engage in that type of behavior with a student."
Assistant District Attorney Ed Shettle says these types of cases are particularly difficult to prosecute in criminal court. "I've got a 15-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old daughter, and by golly, I'm going to protect them," he says. "But in our county it is a very frustrating situation for us. You've just got to have a slam-dunk case to feel confident when you walk in the courtroom, and then you don't always win. It's just horribly frustrating, because you do have that attitude that, 'Well, she's 14. She wanted it. She's old enough. She knows what it's all about.'"
Life hasn't been the same for Libby ever since she came forward with her version of what happened five years ago.
"Friends aren't friends any more, you know what I'm saying, since this stuff happened -- and some of the people I grew up with, you know, since knee-high," she says. "The ones who I thought were my friends, they don't talk to me anymore. If I call to check on them, they don't even return my phone calls. It's only like one or two of them, but it hurts, because they're supposed to be my close friends."
Boys will be boys, the logic goes, and girls who cry foul are either nuts or sluts -- and should be avoided either way.
"I used to be real, real bad when I was in high school," she says. "But when you really look at it, years passed by and I matured over the years. People hear my name now and they still say stuff, but I don't care, because I know, at least I know."
After Libby graduated from Ozen, she enrolled at Lamar University, she says, but Granger was there, taking classes, popping up on campus, reminding her of what happened. Libby dropped out and started working full-time in retail, but she plans to go back to Lamar next summer, hopefully after all the criminal and civil trials are done.
Even then, she might not stay for very long.
"I just really want to get out of here," she says. "I just really want to get out of Beaumont."
She wants to transfer her credits to the University of Houston, she says, where she'll study to become an elementary school teacher.
"School is not what it used to be," she says. "How I hear my momma and my daddy talk, when he played football and my momma was slender and she was a cheerleader and everything, it was good back then. Teachers cared, you know, teachers were like parents. If you did something wrong, they would call home and let parents know. They would discipline you if they knew your momma
"Now BISD, especially at the administration building, they want to keep everything hush-hush, and it shouldn't be like that over there."
Libby says she hasn't spoken to Granger since her accusations came out, but she knows it'll happen in court, where she plans to say:
"Can you just tell the truth so we all can just go home and everybody can go on with their life?"
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