Parents pursuing criminal charges against HHS Principal

By Adam Strunk

HESSTON—Assistant County Attorney Jason Lane said two parents have met with him and are interested in pursuing charges against Hesston High School Principal Ty Rhodes.

One of the parents Harvey County Now has been speaking with for background on this story confirmed that they do plan on moving ahead with charges, as well.

As of Tuesday, Lane could not elaborate more on what charges, if any, the Harvey County Attorney’s Office would pursue, because he had not seen the report, since the sheriff’s department had not yet turned over its criminal investigation to Lane’s office.

Rhodes, according to an Oct. 13 interview with the Harvey County Sheriff’s Department, has admitted to throwing a bat at a moving vehicle on Sept. 27 in Hesston.

The vehicle happened to have Hesston High School students driving and riding inside it.

Sheriff Chad Gay and Investigator Nate Regier said the case would be submitted to the county attorney’s office within the week. Gay and Regier were able to go into far greater detail with the report, helping to connect some of the dots and questions posed by members of the Hesston community following the high-profile crime for the town.

According to the more complete sheriff’s report, the Rhodes family reported a suspicious vehicle driving by their house Saturday, Sept. 26.

Regier said a Hesston Police Officer responded and later pulled over a vehicle with one driver, a high school student. The driver was questioned and let go, as the officer did not believe the driver to be involved in the reported behavior.

The following night, Regier said the Rhodes family again reported a suspicious vehicle driving in the area.

Regier said again a Hesston officer responded to search for the suspicious vehicle.

Regier said Ty Rhodes was not home at the time, but upon returning home, he heard about a suspicious vehicle from his family and left the house to search for it, armed with an aluminum bat.

Regier said, after walking and searching for the vehicle, Rhodes returned home and was approaching College Drive when he reported a vehicle approaching at a high rate of speed.

Rhodes, in interviews, with law enforcement said he tried to flag the vehicle down and stop it, but it didn’t stop.

Regier said Rhodes then told him he spontaneously threw a bat at the vehicle. The vehicle did not stop but continued driving.

The Hesston officer, who was in the area searching for a suspicious vehicle, then returned to the Rhodes home to inform the family that they found no vehicle.

Regier said Rhodes spoke with the officer and told the officer he threw a bat at a vehicle.

Regier said Rhodes, at the time, did not know who was driving the vehicle, as it was dark, around 10 p.m.

During the course of the interview with Harvey County Now, Regier was questioned why Rhodes wouldn’t have initially been arrested for admitting that he threw a bat at a moving vehicle.

“If you’d go down on Main Street and throw a bat at a vehicle ,you’d probably get arrested,” Regier said. “But the driver would probably stop and call 911.”

Regier noted, in this situation, the Hesston Police Department had no vehicle to investigate, as the victims drove off, as well as no victims and nothing to go off of but Rhodes’s own admission.

Regier said that during Rhodes’s conversation the Hesston officer Sept. 27, Rhodes learned the identity of the high school student Hesston PD pulled over the night prior when Rhodes reported a suspicious vehicle.

Regier said Rhodes later called the student’s father, asking for information about the driver of Sunday’s vehicle.

Through those conversations, Regier said Rhodes was able to learn the owner of the vehicle he threw a bat at.

The following Monday, Sept. 28, Regier said Rhodes contacted that person, another Hesston High School student, and called him into his office.

The USD-460 calendar lists that day as an in-service day, meaning there was no attendance at the school.

Regier said that boy, while he owned the vehicle, was not in the vehicle at the time of the bat incident.

The boy contacted the other students involved, six in total, and the students showed up at the high school to speak with Rhodes.

Regier did not elaborate on what he thought the purpose of Rhodes calling the meeting was, saying that was up for the school board to decide. He said Rhodes may have been trying to figure out what happened over the weekend.

Regier said those in Rhodes’s office informed their parents of what happened following the meeting.

One such parent happened to be a Hesston city employee, which is how the Hesston PD was able to connect with the passengers of the vehicle Rhodes threw a bat at.

After learning this piece of information, the Hesston Police Department handed the case over to the sheriff’s office. Regier said the department conducted an investigation in tandem with an attorney from the Kansas Association of School Boards representing the Hesston School District and questioned those involved in the incident.

He said those in the truck reported they were driving through the area, going over the dips in the street.

“They were hitting those dips. By their statements, they were doing anywhere between 45 or 55 miles an hour,” he said. “They were driving up and down through those dips through the area both on Saturday and on Sunday.”

Regier said that he did not believe those in the vehicle noticed Rhodes trying to flag them down until he threw a bat through the vehicle’s windshield.

He said the boys in the vehicle then drove off and had the windshield fixed later.

Sheriff Chad Gay, who was also on the line for the interview about the incident, said initially, after speaking with the parents of those involved, the sheriff’s department didn’t believe they intended on pressing charges and instead took the Hesston Police reports and the follow-up interviews conducted by Regier and compiled them as an information report to give to the county attorney’s office.

He said, upon learning that parents do plan on pressing charges, his office has now compiled the report as a criminal report. Gay said that process takes time. He said the department plans having the report ready within the week.

Not only did the sheriff’s department investigate the incident, but so did the Hesston Board of Education.

The board voted Tuesday night to suspend Rhodes with pay for 60 days as result of his behavior on Sept. 27.

The board also said that it found no wrong doing with the students involved and was not pursuing punishment against the students. The board’s statements in their entirety are available in the opinion section of this week’s paper.

Of note, Harvey County Now has contacted and spoke with parents of the students in the vehicle in relation to this story for background information.

It has also reached out to the Rhodes family for comment.