School district investigating alleged assault by wrestling coach

loberle@beaufortgazette.comMay 27, 2014 

John Hollman

SUBMITTED PHOTO

A Bluffton High School wrestling coach and social studies teacher has been put on administrative leave with pay while the school district investigates an alleged assault during school hours, according to school district spokesman Jim Foster.

John Hollman, 45, was charged Saturday with assault and battery after a female student accused him of slapping her buttocks.

The student said that while a movie was being shown during Fashion, Fabric and Design class May 21, Hollman entered the room and asked the teacher, Melissa Ricks, to sew a button on his pants, according to a Bluffton Police Department report.

The student said she was lying on a table when Hollman smacked her buttocks, which caused stinging and redness, the report said. The student said that a girl behind her asked why Hollman did so, and Hollman replied, "It's OK, I know her like that," the report said.

The student immediately reported the incident to Ricks. Ricks then reported the incident to another teacher the following day, according to the report.

The night after the incident, Hollman contacted Bill Ferrelli, a school resource officer at Bluffton High School, at about 8:34 p.m., the report said.

Hollman told Ferrelli that a student said he had inappropriately touched her during the school day. Hollman said that while in Ricks' classroom, the student was lying on top of the table and Ricks asked her to get down.

Hollman said he reached out and tapped her on the buttocks as if she were one of his wrestlers to reinforce Ricks' directive, the report said.

Hollman told Ferrelli the student's mother and older brother came to his home that night, asking why he had touched the student. Hollman said he apologized and told the mother and brother that he never intended to harm the student or act inappropriately toward her, the report said.

Ferrelli reported the incident to Bluffton Police Lt. Donald Chandler on May 22 and was instructed to investigate.

Ricks told police the student was lying on a table when Hollman hit her, that the student screamed and that Hollman turned to the rest of the class and said, "I know her like that."

Ricks said she had not asked the student to get off the desk.

Ricks received a phone call from Hollman on May 23, saying "this could get ugly" and asked for her support, the report said. Ricks told officers she quickly ended the phone call and reported it to Kelly Homan, head of the guidance department at Bluffton High.

Officers interviewed six students who were in the classroom at the time of the alleged incident, the report said. Two said they heard a slap but didn't see anything. Three said they didn't hear anything during the alleged incident, but after Hollman left the room, they heard the student say she felt he had violated her. One student had been sleeping and didn't hear or see anything.

The female student told officers that two weeks before the incident, Hollman had come to a Bluffton restaurant where she works, put his arm around her and started tickling her, the report said. When she tried to get away, Hollman tightened his grip and continued tickling her.

The female student said that when a friend accompanying Hollman asked if the student was one of his, he replied, "Oh no, I'm her daddy," the report said.

After interviewing witnesses, school administrators and Hollman, Ferrelli secured an arrest warrant for Hollman. Hollman's attorney, Tabor Vaux, scheduled a time for Hollman to turn himself in.

Hollman was arrested Saturday on the charge at the Bluffton police station, released on $1,092.50 bail and given a June 17 court date.

Reached Monday, Hollman declined to comment and directed questions to Vaux.

Hollman "is a very well-respected coach and teacher," Vaux said Monday."We are hoping to have a copy of the investigation soon. From what I understand now, this is something that should have been handled through the school system, not the courts."

Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.

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