Tribune-Courier General Manager
A Graves County woman has come forward to report she was a victim of sexual misconduct by former Marshall County football coach Ron Barnard while she was a student at Graves County High School.
Barnard, 46, was arraigned in Marshall County District Court Monday, after his arrest Wednesday on multiple charges relating to misconduct with a 15-year-old freshman student at Marshall County High School.
He was employed at Graves County as a teacher and assistant coach from 1994-97 and again from 1998-2002. The former Graves County student declined to file charges, but Marshall County Sheriff’s Detective Matt Hilbrecht said the woman has provided names of some other former students who may also have information that may help piece together a pattern of behavior police believe may have spanned two decades.
Accompanied in court on Monday by attorney Craig Newbern, of Paducah, Barnard pleaded not guilty to charges of unlawful use of electronic means originating or received within the Commonwealth to induce a minor to engage in sexual or other prohibited activities, a class D felony; two counts of distribution of obscene matter to minors, a class A misdemeanor; and one count of solicitation of promoting a sexual performance by a minor, a class C felony.
Barnard is represented by attorney Rawl Kazee, of Lexington. Kazee was not available to attend the arraignment on Monday.
The Marshall County Sheriff’s Department had opened an investigation into alleged misconduct with female students of the high school in December after being contacted by Marshall County Schools Superintendent Trent Lovett.
Rumors of inappropriate activity with students had been swirling within the high school and the community since late last year when Barnard returned from attending a Marshall County Lady Marshals basketball tournament in Florida as a chaperone for the team.
Reports of events alleged on that trip quickly made their way to Lovett. Lovett said he immediately contacted the sheriff’s department.
Both Lovett and Marshall County Sheriff Kevin Byars, along with the Marshall County Attorney’s office, said action was taken on the matter as quickly as possible.
“All I had were the same rumors being heard by the rest of the community when I went to the police,” said Lovett. “You have to have a victim that’s willing to go on the record before you take someone out of the classroom. People have rights. Teachers have rights. I want students and their parents to know how seriously we take these kinds of things. If I had had any proof at all, the predator would have been removed from the school long before he was.”
Assistant Marshall County Attorney Jason Darnell issued a statement Friday defending the handling of the case.
“Despite close monitoring and investigation by various school and law enforcement officials, at no time prior to June 4 was there enough solid proof of wrongdoing to make any formal action,” Darnell said. “Although rumors surrounding Mr. Barnard have been floating around over the past few months, mere speculation and conjecture do not constitute evidence to support a criminal charge or disciplinary proceeding.”
Hilbrecht said the investigation was slowed after a subpoena for AT&T cell phone records went unanswered for more than five months. He said he had subpoenaed records on two accounts belonging to Barnard, one from AT&T and another from Verizon.
He said the Verizon records were received within a few days of his January request, but AT&T records were not received until May when County Attorney Jeff Edwards became involved in contacting the cell phone carrier.
“We had called them (AT&T) repeatedly and each time we were given a different story,” said Hilbrecht. “It’s not typical for it to take this long.”
Hilbrecht said at one point he was told by representatives of AT&T the records were sent to the wrong place and would have to be tracked down.
“We had to get the county attorney’s office involved and then the records were quickly made available. The delay very much slowed our investigation,” he said.
On May 30 Lovett received a tip that a 15-year-old student was at the center of another alleged incident of misconduct by Barnard. The incident, Lovett said, was not related to the December reports. He again contacted Byars.
Upon questioning, the alleged victim told police Barnard had suggested they create fake Twitter accounts to communicate and on one occasion attempted to put his hand down her pants at the high school.
On June 2 the student, with the consent of her parents, wore an audio-video recording device to the high school. During conversation with the student, police reports indicate a man believed to be Barnard is heard telling her not to follow him on their real accounts, but to use their “second” accounts.
Later that evening police say Barnard used those accounts to send lewd photographs of himself and request nude pictures from the victim. He is also alleged to have discussed meeting with the student at her home when her parents were not there, telling her he would bring alcohol.
Armed with the evidence from the recordings, police arrested Barnard at the high school last Wednesday, the last day of school for teachers.
They also confiscated a laptop computer, a personal computer from the coach’s office and two I-pads belonging to the school system, as well as Barnard’s personal cell phone.
“If it weren’t for the bravery and courage of this young lady we wouldn’t have been able to make an arrest,” said Hilbrecht. “She’s being blasted in social media and the fact is she is not to blame for this. The blame lies solely on Coach Barnard.”
Byars says he believes there are more victims who are hesitant to come forward.
“We want students and their parents to know we will withhold their names and protect their privacy,” he said. “We really want to encourage people to come forward who might have information to assist us in our investigation.”
Barnard has also been employed by school systems as a teacher and assistant football coach in Mercer County, from 1997-1998; at Paducah Tilghman, from 2002-2007; and at Campbellsville University, from 2008-2010.
He also served on the coaching staff of Mayfield High School in the mid 1990s. He was hired as head coach of the Marshall County football team in 2010.
Lovett said Barnard was aware of the allegations against him and had repeatedly denied them. He had submitted his resignation as football coach in March, just six weeks after sustaining serious injuries in a widely publicized single-vehicle automobile accident along U.S. Hwy. 68 near Briensburg on Jan. 24.
Lovett said Barnard was not set to return to a teaching position next year, saying he was not re-hired. Non-tenured staff, which was Barnard’s status, are employed by the school system on a year-to-year basis.
Barnard remains lodged in the Marshall County Detention Center on a $10,000 cash bond. His next court appearance is tentatively scheduled for June 18 at 1 p.m.
Newbern asked for a change in bond status, seeking a property bond. At the request of Assistant County Attorney Jason Darnall a bond hearing has been set for Wednesday, June 11 at 1 p.m. in Marshall County District Court.