Ex-band director admits to sleepovers

Butler High School's former band director, now under investigation for allegations he had a sexual relationship with a student, held unauthorized sleepovers at the school for band members.

Anthony Shelton on Friday denied accusations that he engaged in a four-month sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female student, but he acknowledged that he let band members -- both boys and girls -- sleep at school on at least two occasions.

The incidents were reported in an internal affairs investigation by the Richmond County school system after a female student said Mr. Shelton made inappropriate comments to her. That investigation led to another student who made a similar accusation, according to a copy of the investigation obtained by The Augusta Chronicle .

This investigation is separate from the one launched by the Richmond County Sheriff's Office after the 16-year-old's mother filed a report Thursday claiming Mr. Shelton had sex with her daughter. She alleged the sexual encounters occurred up to eight times a week in the school's band room. The student told her mother that Mr. Shelton, 37, stored condoms in his desk and would often remove her from classes to have sex with him, the report stated.

"The worst part is it wasn't when they were going out on these field trips; it was during school time," the mother said when contacted Friday.

The mother initially spoke with school board police. The information was turned over to the sheriff's office because Mr. Shelton no longer works for the school system.

By Friday afternoon, Investigator Thelma Gilchrist said, she had yet to speak with Mr. Shelton, who was hired as the band director in June, or the student. Depending on those interviews, Mr. Shelton could face charges of sexual assault against persons in custody, a felony that can carry a maximum punishment of 30 years in prison.

"It does not matter about the consent of the victim," Investigator Gilchrist said. "As long as the offender has some authority over the victim, they could be charged under this statute."

Mr. Shelton, who was aware of the school's investigation before he resigned in late March, said he knew nothing about the sexual assault allegation when reached by a reporter Friday.

"It's totally false and untrue," he said by phone. "This is the first time I've heard of anything like this."

But Mr. Shelton did admit he allowed the sleepovers.

Sgt. Troi Niehus, the school system's internal affairs investigator, said she discovered that on at least two occasions Mr. Shelton allowed students to sleep at the school overnight and that four volunteers assisting him had not been properly screened by school officials.

Two of the volunteers had felony convictions, including one with an outstanding warrant who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for theft, burglary, false imprisonment and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

Sgt. Niehus said the volunteers were involved with the band before Mr. Shelton became director. Superintendent Dana Bedden said there was enough evidence to show Mr. Shelton had violated board policy, though not enough to substantiate claims of inappropriate comments to students.

Mr. Shelton said the sleepovers occurred when band members returned late from out-of-town football games on Friday and had early performances the next day. He said he decided it wasn't safe to allow students to drive or walk home in the early morning hours, so volunteers stayed with them while he went home to shower.

"Maybe it was the wrong judgement, but at the same time, what were we supposed to do?" Mr. Shelton asked. He said boys and girls slept in separate rooms.

However, a mother of one of the band members said in the school's investigation that she saw boys and girls sleeping in the same room with no adult supervision.

Mr. Shelton denied making inappropriate comments to any student and said it's always been his policy to avoid meeting with female students alone.

The female students who made the accusations in the school's investigation did so as part of a vendetta against him, Mr. Shelton said. He removed one of the girls from the flag line, and other girls felt the only way to get on the flag line next school year was to have their teacher fired, he said.

Mr. Shelton said he resigned because he knew he wouldn't be rehired.

"My lawyer thought it was just best at this point because they had pretty much already decided they were not going to renew my contract next year," he said.

Dr. Bedden, who held a news conference Friday afternoon to address the sexual assault allegation, said Mr. Shelton would have been fired if he had not resigned. He said Mr. Shelton violated several board policies, citing taking students out of class to see him, giving duplicate keys to the school to people not employed with the school system, questionable booster club spending and not doing background checks on volunteers.

The superintendent forwarded his investigation to the Professional Standards Commission, the agency that handles complaints against Georgia educators. Dr. Gary Walker, the director of the commission's ethics division, confirmed receiving a complaint involving professional misconduct but said it had just been submitted and had yet to be investigated.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.