Education

Moss says he didn’t lead the 2016 Hilton Head principal probe. District staffers tell their story

Former Beaufort County schools superintendent Jeff Moss fired back at his old district Wednesday evening, saying the district is not telling the truth about him in its new claim that he broke protocol and handled a 2016 sexual misconduct investigation himself.

Moss’ denial prompted two high-ranking district officials to speak out Thursday for the first time, giving new details about how, they say, Moss kept them from performing duties they normally would have done in an investigation.

Moss, in an email to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette late Wednesday, unequivocally denied conducting the investigation into an allegation that Hilton Head High School principal Amanda O’Nan abused her position by having sex in the school with a then-deputy with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. The deputy has since told sheriff’s officials the allegations were true.

“The initial review was conducted by in-house counsel and the HR department,” Moss wrote, like all other investigations. “They reviewed video, key access, and spoke with individuals. I did not conduct the investigation.”

Moss goes on to say there was no evidence of inappropriate activity occurring on school property. After receiving that information, he said, he spoke to O’Nan.

“It was determined without proof we would turn the information over to the state department (of education) for further investigation,” he wrote. Moss did not say in his email why he thought the district was now saying its human resources department was kept out of the investigation.

Two senior-level administrators with the district, however, tell a different story than Moss — a story that raises questions about whether a thorough investigation took place. Details of the 2016 investigation were never released to the public, other than the district saying there was no evidence to support the allegations.

Alice Walton, the district’s human resources director, is supposed to conduct investigations, according to district protocol. In an interview Thursday, Walton said it is normally her job to gather information and go to schools to start interviews. The O’Nan allegations were brought up during a meeting of senior staffers, Walton said, and she asked if she should go to the high school to begin her investigation.

“Dr. Moss told me no,” she said. Walton said she could not remember the date of the meeting or exactly who was present.

Dave Grissom, the district’s coordinator of protective services, is the official who normally gathers evidence such as video surveillance, badge access logs, emails and phone records for district investigations.

Grissom said Thursday he was never asked to pull together any evidence for the O’Nan probe.

Grissom said he was notified of the allegations by the Beaufort County’s Sheriff’s Office and went directly to Moss’ office, where he relayed the information to Moss and the district’s attorney, Drew Davis.

Moss told Grissom he was “free to go” and that he, Moss, would “handle it,” Grissom said Thursday. “I was never asked by anyone to do any further investigation,” he added.

Both Walton and Grissom said that Moss, as superintendent, had the authority to run an investigation himself so they didn’t question it at the time.

Beaufort County School District Interim Superintendent Herb Berg launched a second investigation, asked the S.C. Department of Education to conduct its own independent review and placed O’Nan on paid administrative leave on Jan. 8.

Berg’s decision to place O’Nan on leave came less than a day after the newspapers reported that former deputy DeJuan Holmes had admitted to sheriff’s office investigators in June 2018 that he and O’Nan had had an adulterous affair, including sex in the school while he was on duty. Holmes had previously declined to provide answers to investigators in 2016, resigning from his post instead.

O’Nan denied the allegations in 2016, then declined to comment when contacted last week about Holmes’ statements.

O’Nan’s attorney Ed Kubec also declined to comment on the matter Thursday.

“I don’t want to do anything to embroil myself into an investigation that’s going on,” Kubec said.

Maggie Angst covers education for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. In 2017, Maggie was named the Media Person of the Year by the South Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicago area.
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