Listen: Former deputy admits to having sex with Hilton Head principal while on duty
Between Sept. 21, 2015 and April 24, 2016, Hilton Head Island High School principal Amanda O’Nan used her school district email account to exchange hundreds of personal messages with now-former Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputy DeJuan Holmes, who has said the two had an after-hours sexual relationship in the school during that time, according to a review of about 600 pages of their correspondence.
The emails — released Friday by the Beaufort County School District in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette — reveal a close and flirtatious relationship between two married individuals who made arrangements to see each other and who, at times, seemed to have used their work accounts as a way to communicate out of sight from their spouses.
Though O’Nan has repeatedly and publicly described her relationship with Holmes as strictly professional, their emails paint a different picture.
The two checked in with each other regularly and shared photos, inside jokes, news of their achievements and, occasionally, messages of affection, such as O’Nan telling Holmes on Feb. 12, 2016, “I’m home ... wanting u.”
O’Nan and Holmes also exchanged potentially sensitive information about their respective workplaces, including at least one report that detailed ongoing Sheriff’s Office investigations, photos from a tactical training exercise, information about students and district personnel as well as messages from co-workers, according to the emails and to the school district, which redacted dozens of messages, citing exemptions allowed under FOIA and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
The newspapers’ FOIA request only included emails the two sent using their government accounts and does not include any texts or messages they might have privately exchanged using personal cellphone data, tablets, computers or social media.
None of the work emails released by the district show that O’Nan made plans to meet with Holmes inside the high school after-hours.
Holmes resigned from the Sheriff’s Office in April 2016 in lieu of submitting to an internal investigation into a complaint from O’Nan’s husband, Chris.
That investigation remained an obstacle when Holmes later inquired about possibly seeking his job back. So last summer, Holmes agreed to answer questions about his relationship with O’Nan and told the Sheriff’s Office’s Office of Professional Responsibility that he had allowed O’Nan to ride in his patrol vehicle multiple times counter to policy and that the two did have sex in the school.
O’Nan was publicly reprimanded by the South Carolina Department of Education’s board on March 12 after a state investigation and continues to await a decision on her future employment from the school district, which conducted its own inquiry.
The district has not released its findings from that inquiry.
When asked Tuesday where the district stands in its review of O’Nan’s status, spokesperson Jim Foster would only say that “it is ongoing.”
For two years and up until recently, O’Nan repeatedly denied the accusations made by her former husband, but admitted to placing “herself in a sensitive position by meeting an individual for reasons unrelated to school business on school grounds after hours,” according to the state’s written order, signed by O’Nan on March 5.
She has continued to strongly deny she had any sexual relationship at the high school and has repeatedly denied having an affair with Holmes at all.
On Friday, however, the school district alerted O’Nan’s attorney, Ed Kubec, that the Packet and the Gazette had received O’Nan’s emails to and from Holmes.
In response to the papers’ question Monday about whether O’Nan still contends she did not have an affair with Holmes now that the emails had been released, Kubec emailed a statement Tuesday on O’Nan’s behalf.
Around this same time Tuesday, WSAV reported that O’Nan, speaking out for the first time since her state-issued reprimand, had posted a message to the community on her private Facebook page addressing the matter.
Neither the attorney’s statement nor O’Nan’s Facebook post directly address whether O’Nan is still denying the affair.
The only unequivocal denial from O’Nan is that she did not have sex with Holmes on school property.
“Ms. O’Nan ... does, however, realize and accept that some of her actions, during what was a very tumultuous period in her life, may give the appearance of impropriety,” Kubec wrote.
The Packet and the Gazette do not typically report on allegations of affairs, but both O’Nan and Holmes were in unique positions of public trust and the accusations include claims that they abused their positions and used a public school building and public equipment to do so.
The district never looked at her emails
In 2016, the school district told the Packet and the Gazette that it had conducted an investigation into O’Nan and found no evidence to support claims she had an extramarital affair on school grounds.
At the time, the district refused to publicly disclose any details about how it had reached that conclusion, but contended that its protocol had been followed.
Recently, however, the district changed its story, saying that two top officials who should have been leading parts of the investigation not only did not participate in the investigation, but were specifically told to stay out of it by then-Superintendent Jeff Moss.
Moss has vehemently denied this.
On Tuesday, O’Nan and her attorney both said in their written statements that the district was told in 2016 about the nature of her relationship with an unnamed individual, though how she described that relationship to the district is not clear.
“I never denied anything that was true to my bosses,” O’Nan wrote on Facebook, according to WSAV. “I cooperated with (the) district and state in 2016 with complete truth.”
In her Facebook post, O’Nan expressed a clear desire to return to work.
Hired as the principal of Hilton Head High in 2006, she is well-regarded for the school’s success, including raising its graduation rate by more than 20 percentage points and expanding its international baccalaureate program, according to state and district data.
At Tuesday evening’s school board meeting in Bluffton, seven people spoke in support of O’Nan during the public comment sessions and urged interim superintendent Herb Berg and the board to allow her to come “back home,” calling the district’s delayed decision “unfair” to O’Nan, parents, students and teachers.
“She is an amazing woman and a leader,” one speaker said. “So many of the success stories we’ve heard tonight, she had a hand in ... She’s changed many lives.”
Other speakers, some wearing “I Stand with O’Nan” stickers, shared stories of O’Nan knocking on the doors of homes to find out why students haven’t been attending school, of working hard to get volunteers for a mentor program, of helping students to find scholarships and of her “tireless” dedication to academically gifted and struggling students alike.
Brandon Arrieta — a graduate of Hilton Head Island High School and father of Alex Arrieta, who died of acute myeloid leukemia nearly two years ago at age 10 — made an emotional plea for the board to reinstate O’Nan.
He expressed gratitude for O’Nan’s support of his high school-aged son during Alex’s illness and called O’Nan “one of a kind.”
Arrieta called the school “unrecognizable” compared to when he was a student and credited O’Nan with the school’s success.
“Her impact on children’s futures cannot be compared,” he said. “You will be very hard-pressed to replace Amanda O’Nan.”
Parent Harriet Pollitzer said she wanted to see O’Nan back in her position soon and asked the board directly when they expected to make a decision.
“She’s a wonderful person inside and outside the classroom,” Pollitzer said.
Kubec, who last week called the accusations against O’Nan “stale,” shared his client’s frustration with the district’s delay.
“Eleven weeks later and the District remains silent,” he wrote. “This silence is made even more deafening given that the South Carolina Department of Education ... already concluded its investigation and last week issued a public reprimand, the slightest form of disciplinary action, which speaks volumes about its overall assessment of this situation.”
In its recent investigation of O’Nan, the district gathered more than 300 emails between her and Holmes, searching its server for the past six years for evidence of impropriety, according to spokesperson Jim Foster.
“They weren’t pulled for review in 2016,” Foster said Monday of the emails. “We don’t know why.”
The district’s IT department logs every request to search its servers for emails, and no such request was made by Moss or then-staff attorney Drew Davis, according to Foster.
The first email to Holmes was sent by O’Nan on Sept. 21, 2015, and was redacted by the district because it included information about students, Foster said.
He described the message as “professional” in tone.
It wasn’t until mid-Novermber of that year that emails between Holmes and O’Nan became more frequent.
On Nov. 29, 2015, O’Nan forwarded Holmes a message about orienteering on Pinckney Island.
“We need to do this,” she wrote.
“U think??” he responded.
“Oh yeah! This time I will wear better shoes.”
“What happened with ur other shoes.”
“My mom washed them and I told her a [SIC] stepped in a muddy puddle,” O’Nan wrote.
“SOME KINDA MUDDY PUDDLE.”
“I think she knows not to ask too many questions,” O’Nan responded.
Later that evening she asked Holmes, “Can you get away?”
On Dec. 8, 2015, O’Nan told Holmes she was in a meeting and bored.
He sent photos of himself in response.
“Do you want another?” he asked.
The next day, Holmes wrote, “Oh OK ... I know who that mom is now. She looks differ [SIC].”
It is unclear as to what Holmes was referring to, but O’Nan responded, “She probably wants you too ... and you are blind to it.”
On Dec. 12, 2015, she told Holmes that she missed him and instructed him to “be good.”
A few minutes later she wrote, “You were short in your reply. Makes me worry.”
On Dec. 15, 2015, Holmes sent O’Nan a photo of pie.
“Got the picture but I’d rather have a picture of you,” she wrote.
‘He thinks I’m straying’
O’Nan and Holmes used their work accounts to tell the other how to correspond — either over text, by email or by phone — and they sometimes made arrangements to see each other in person.
At 6:32 a.m. Dec. 20, 2015, for instance, O’Nan wrote to Holmes, “Tell her ur going to the gym.”
On Jan. 6, 2016, she wrote, “Hopefully I get to see you sometime.”
Four days later, she told Holmes, “Chris has my phone ... don’t text me at all today. Will text you later.”
“Y does he have it.”
“He thinks I’m straying,” she responded. “He is watching me closely today.”
Late Jan. 19, 2016, Holmes told O’Nan, “Had a pineapple ... don’t email. Text only.”
The next morning he wrote, “Good pineapple ... text done email.”
On the morning of Jan. 16, 2016, O’Nan told Holmes she wouldn’t be able to meet up “until after 9.”
Later that afternoon, Holmes emailed her “130?????” and then “115???”
“K but 130 might b better,” O’Nan responded.
Holmes’ next email is redacted by the district.
“Find out what she is doing that makes them she think is crazy,” O’Nan responded.
Holmes then told her he was going to have to push back their meeting time.
Two hours later, O’Nan emailed him: “Let me know if u can get away.”
Then at 3:52 p.m., she told him, “I could get away at 3.”
At 4 p.m., he responded with “... I’ll sneak out late.”
The next morning, O’Nan sent, “Can you get away for a few later tonight?”
Holmes told her he would let her know.
“... Email late tonight if you can get away,” she told him.
At 3:27 a.m. she wrote to him, “Just woke up ... call me if u can meet.”
On April 14, 2016, Holmes emailed O’Nan to let her know he was “Jus thinking of ur sexiness.”
‘That’s a lot of stuff y’all do’
Several of the emails that O’Nan and Holmes exchanged were related to their jobs.
On Dec. 14, 2015, Holmes sent O’Nan photos from a tactical training exercise with the Sheriff’s Office in which he was hiding in a building pretending to be a bank robber.
The photos were redacted by the school district at the request of the Sheriff’s Office.
A couple of days later, he emailed O’Nan a photo of a wrecked SUV from a crash related to a chase.
Holmes also appears to have sent a report of several criminal investigations that were active at the time, asking O’Nan to proofread them.
“Couldn’t do your job ..,” O’Nan responded to one request. “In the first, second and fourth paragraph you capitalized ‘Investigators’ but it’s not a proper noun so it shouldn’t be Capitalized. In the second paragraph you are missing a conjunction ... Should read Finesse Gang and are.”
“That’s a lot of stuff y’all do,” she wrote.
O’Nan also forwarded district emails to Holmes, several of which were not released by the district because they contained information or photos of students.
One email, forwarded to Holmes on March 29, 2016, is a pre-emptive goodbye message from Bluffton High School’s athletic director David Adams.
“Guys, there is a 99% chance that I will not be returning to Bluffton High as the AD next school year. Apparently the policy has been changed that if the principal is retiring, it is a full moon, leap year with a high tide, ... then they do not have to honor my request to return for one year. But it has been a blast.”
On Dec. 3, 2015, O’Nan forwarded Holmes an email from Hilton Head High assistant principal Alvilda Graham about a student who had walked out of class.
In the heavily redacted email, Graham notes twice that she hasn’t seen O’Nan.
“I’m about to forget what you look like,” Graham wrote.
“I know,” O’Nan responded. “Be back late tonight.”
In forwarding these emails to Holmes, O’Nan wrote, “She’s turning funky ...”
On Jan. 18, 2016, O’Nan forwarded a notice about a drug search at the high school and wrote, “I think you need to find a reason to stop by.”
Maj. Bob Bromage with the Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday afternoon that the content of Holmes’ work-related emails that Holmes sent to O’Nan and their attachments are being reviewed.
“At least one attachment contains what appears to be information on active criminal investigations,” Bromage said. “Sharing this type of information outside of law enforcement could potentially compromise the integrity of an investigation.”
Asked whether O’Nan’s personal use of the district’s email account violated policy, district spokesman Foster said, “That’s part of our review.”