After the conclusion this week of a shocking sex abuse trial, parents and the district attorney are criticizing what they say is the school system’s failure to properly investigate complaints about Scott Goins and his wrestling program.
Goins, 46, was convicted Tuesday of molesting three team members between 1998 and 2004, and was sentenced to a minimum of 34 years and 10 months in prison.
Despite complaints made by some parents in 2002 and earlier, Goins remained a coach at East Gaston High School until his arrest last year.
Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell said the school system records show a lack of follow up and investigation of the allegations made by parents and students over the years. Parents said they reported the allegations to leadership at the time, including East Gaston principal Eddie McGinnis, deputy superintendent Reeves McGlohon and the school system attorney.
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“The file on Scott Goins shows a number of letters and affidavits citing specific examples of dangerous behavior,” Bell said. “The file does not show where any discipline was ever taken on any charge.”
Bell said one parent wrote about her son being ill and coughing at practice and that Goins taped his mouth shut. In another case, Bell said the school system was notified that Goins was sleeping in the same bed as young boys while out of town.
“Additional reports tell of boys being stripped and forced to pose in homosexual positions while wearing make-up,” Bell said. “One wrestler was choked unconscious and lost his sight for three hours. It appears that no investigation or reprimand was done on any of these as well as many others.”
Ed Sadler, who was superintendent of Gaston County Schools in 2002, disagrees.
“Any allegations reported during my time were thoroughly investigated,” Sadler said. “My concern was always that we protect the interests of the children and do everything we could to provide a safe and secure environment.”
He recalled times when “some folks were not willing to talk about a particular situation. You proceed with the information that’s available to you.”
“It appears to me that some folks are more willing to talk now than at the time the investigation occurred,” Sadler said. “I’m disappointed the DA didn’t take the time to ask me about something that occurred on my watch. Nobody asked me anything.”
Bell said the file does show two memos requesting that matters be investigated, including one from Sadler, but there is no evidence that Goins was disciplined.
“There is no document showing Goins was ever told to quit sleeping with these young boys or quit choking them unconscious,” Bell said.
Bell said he was “very bothered with the handling of the investigations back in 2002 and beyond.”
“I’m disgusted that this man would do these vile things to these young boys and that he was never reigned in for the things that he did,” Bell said. “School officials should have investigated the allegations and stopped him back then.”
McGlohon, who later became Gaston schools superintendent and is now retired, would not discuss the Goins case but said the school system followed its policies about complaints.
A teacher and coach who produced championship teams over a 20-year period, Goins was trusted and respected by many in the community.
In 2011, a man told two friends he’d been abused by the coach when he was a teen, and the remark was passed along to police. But when officers contacted the man, he denied it. The matter was closed until February 2013, when one victim came forward, followed later by two more. Police launched an investigation that led to Goins’ arrest in June. Initially, he was suspended with pay, but resigned in August.
Gaston Police say they met with school officials in 2011 about Goins and informed them he was under investigation in 2013.
Gaston County Schools would not answer questions about the Goins case but released a statement Friday saying that safety is a top priority and noting that Gaston is consistently ranked as one of the safest school districts in the state.
According to the statement, “All personnel complaints are taken very seriously. When a complaint is made about an employee, the complaint is investigated thoroughly. ... During an investigation, if law enforcement must be notified, we contact the police. If an investigation involves the police, we cooperate fully with law enforcement.”
The accusers, now young adults, testified during the trial that began July 17. They said the sexual incidents occurred in hotel rooms on overnight trips, and at their homes, the coach’s apartment and school.
After four weeks of testimony that often included graphic detail of how intense training tactics turned sexual, a jury found Goins guilty on 17 of 20 counts against him. Goins took the stand to defend himself, saying he never had sexual contact with any of his athletes. His attorney has given notice that he intends to appeal.
Bell said the number of charges against Goins “could easily have been doubled.”
Bell characterized the school system’s failure to act on earlier complaints as “Penn State on a smaller scale,” referring to the 2012 conviction for child molestation of retired assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky at Penn State University.
“It’s the danger of too much success in a sports program and becoming immune to supervision and control,” Bell said. “The coach becomes more powerful than the principal.”
In 2002, parents with a son in Goins’ wrestling program had a lawyer draw up four affidavits detailing hazing and other misconduct by the coach involving their son and three other wrestlers at various times as far back as 1995.
The affidavits were delivered to school officials, but Bell said the school system’s own investigator was “basically blocked.”
Ken Beach, who was director of security for Gaston County Schools in 2002, recalled trying to investigate the complaints against Goins, but being “hampered” in getting access to resources and personnel.
He said he never interviewed Goins alone. Instead, Beach said Principal Eddie McGinnis and the athletic director, whose name Beach doesn’t remember, were always present and “they answered most of the questions.”
“I knew, in my opinion, that he (Goins) was a sexual offender and didn’t need to be in a classroom or coaching anybody,” said Beach, a retired chief of the Gaston County Police. “I reported this to deputy superintendent McGlohon, but it went on deaf ears.”
Beach said he also reported the information to Gaston County Police.
The notarized affidavits, two of which were introduced as evidence in Goins’ trial, were the idea of Donnie and Cindy Lowe of Stanley. In one of the documents, their son, Brodie, described hazing while he was on the wrestling team and how he was the victim of a game called “smack down.”
“I was slapped so hard that it left a visible mark that my parents photographed,” Brodie wrote. “....Coach Goins was smiling and laughing the entire time.”
The coach “cursed and fussed at us profusely,” wrote the wrestler, who later quit the team. “...Any high school coach who treats his wrestlers like Coach Goins should not be allowed to continue to ruin promising athletic careers.”
Donnie Lowe said he and his wife met with then-deputy school superintendent McGlohon, principal McGinnis and the school system attorney to give them copies of the affidavits. They stayed while those officials read the documents, which outlined inappropriate behavior but did not allege the kinds of sexual abuse that later came to light.
Lowe said “nothing became of it.”
During the trial, when McGinnis testified that he’d never seen an affidavit related to Goins. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Lowe, a former wrestling coach at Charlotte Country Day. “We felt so betrayed.”
When contacted this week, McGinnis said he stands by his testimony.
The school system’s failure to act on the complaints in 2002 “put winning over the safety and welfare of student athletes,” Lowe said. “It’s wrong. Dead wrong.”
Looking back, Lowe said, “We should have gone directly to police.”
Bell thinks school officials should review policies and implement new ones if necessary.
And he had this advice for parents: “They need to hold schools and school systems accountable.”