Crime & Public Safety

Bluffton wrestling coach's charge of assaulting student heads to jury trial

John Hollman in 2009.
John Hollman in 2009. Staff photo

The case of a Bluffton High School history teacher and wrestling coach accused of striking a female student's buttocks will go before a jury, although it is not clear when.

John Hollman, 45, was charged May 24 with third-degree assault and battery after a student accused him of slapping her buttocks May 21 during a fashion class.

That charge was to be tried Tuesday in Bluffton Municipal Court before Judge Clifford Bush III. However, before the proceedings began, Hollman's attorney, Tabor Vaux, requested the case be moved to a jury trial.

Bush granted the request and said it was to be placed on the docket. No trial date was set.

"I'd rather have a jury trial than a bench one, for strategy reasons," Vaux said after the hearing. Hollman did not enter a plea during the proceedings.

"I think there are some real issues and questions on whether this incident is criminal," Vaux added.

The attorney representing the town of Bluffton, Benjamin Shelton of Hilton Head Island-based Finger and Fraser law firm, said there has been no resolution so far, and the natural progression is for the case to move to a jury trial.

After the hearing, Hollman said his attorney advised him not to comment. While waiting for his proceedings to begin, he exchanged greetings and handshakes with many people who were in the courtroom for other hearings.

The alleged victim and her mother, a teacher at Pritchardville Elementary School, were present at the hearing but did not speak during proceedings. Attempts to reach them afterward for comment were unsuccessful.

Vaux said he will continue talks with the student's family in hopes of resolving the case before it goes to trial.

Beaufort County School District conducted an internal investigation and placed Hollman on paid administrative leave May 23. That investigation concluded June 6, and Hollman was taken off leave and maintained his employment contract for the 2014-15 school year, according to district spokesman Jim Foster.

The district would not provide further details about the investigation's findings or what, if any, disciplinary action Hollman faced.

On the day of the alleged incident, Hollman went into a fashion class to ask the teacher a question, 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 he replied, "It's OK, I know her like that," the report said.

The student reported the incident to the teacher, Melissa Ricks.

The day after the incident, Hollman told a school resource officer that he reached out and tapped the student on the buttocks as if she were one of his wrestlers, to reinforce a directive that she get off the table, the report said.

Ricks said she did not make that request, but Hollman said he directed the student to get off the table, according to the report.

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