HALLETTSVILLE – Three indicted Hallettsville school officials accused of failing to report allegations of student abuse are moving toward trial after a Wednesday arraignment.
Head baseball coach Calvin “Shorty” Cook and assistant principal and head basketball coach Scott Cottenoir appeared before a judge in the Lavaca County Courthouse. A third indicted school official, Darrin Bickham, who serves as principal of Hallettsville High School, was not present.
During court Wednesday, visiting District Judge Dwight Peschel spoke with attorneys representing the three men. He also set court dates, including a tentative trial date for Cottenoir on Sept. 9.
“During an arraignment, basically the court inquires into whether or not the individual who is accused understands what the charges are and asks how they plead,” said one of Cook’s attorneys, Joe Bailey II, of Houston. “Mr. Cook entered a not guilty.”
Cottenoir and Bickham have likewise entered pleas of not guilty.
Cook is represented by Bailey and Houston attorney Wes Rucker, who appeared with him in court. Bickham is represented by Houston attorney Larry McDougal, and Cottenoir is defended by San Antonio attorney James Reeves.
“This case is based on rumor that is not substantiated, and when Mr. Bailey and I have the opportunity to share that with the public, they are going to see it,” Rucker said.
Cottenoir’s attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the charges, claiming the indictment against him is vague. A judge has not yet issued a ruling, but the defendants were reindicted days later.
Lavaca County Attorney Stuart Fryer, who is prosecuting the cases, said the small court has about six trials each year. He declined to comment about the case’s substance, which was enough to convince a grand jury to bring indictments, but added there was considerable evidence to review.
Cook, Cottenoir and Bickham are charged with failure to report an offense, a state jail felony. School professionals are required by law to report abuse, and the crime, normally a Class A misdemeanor, can be enhanced if prosecutors prove an official intentionally conceal the abuse.
As of Thursday, Hondo police were investigating allegations of sexual assault involving the Hallettsville High School baseball team. Department officials could not be reached to comment about the case’s status Wednesday.