Forsyth County Sheriff’s investigators say they won’t be filing criminal charges against the high school varsity boys basketball coach accused of striking a student in the classroom.
“The bottom line is we were unable to determine that a criminal act occurred,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Matt Allen, who was part of the probe that concluded Thursday.
The investigation, which Allen described as thorough, involved “quite a few” potential witnesses to the alleged incident last week between head coach Dennis Benedict and a male student at West.
“Our role was to determine whether or not a criminal act occurred and we’ve done that,” Allen said. “So the school still has their investigation to conduct.”
As a result of a complaint, which the students’ parents filed Jan. 20, the Forsyth County school system has temporarily reassigned Benedict, who teaches biology in addition to coaching.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo said the system’s human resources department has standard procedures it must follow in a case like this.
“Now that the investigation is complete from the sheriff’s office, we’ll review the findings and begin our own internal investigation,” she said. “It’s unclear right now as to how long it will take.”
In the meantime, Benedict’s status is unlikely to change. Caracciolo said he will not be coaching or teaching while the school system looks into the matter.
According to a sheriff’s report of the incident, the 15-year-old student told his parents that on Jan. 19 Benedict had come “over to him in class during study time and punched him in the head three times.”
The complaint, which was filed the next day, also stated that the boy’s father said no injuries had occurred, but he wanted “the incident to be documented and investigated.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, the student’s father declined to elaborate on the incident “because the case is under investigation.”
Likewise, Benedict said it “would not be appropriate” for him to discuss the situation.
“The school system is conducting their investigation and that’s what’s supposed to happen,” he said. “The school people are doing their best, so that’s how I’ve got to let it sit.”
According to the sheriff’s report, the Jan 19 incident may not have been the first time the coach had made physical contact with the student, who is a member of West’s freshman boys basketball team.
The report states the teen “also told his parents that Mr. Benedict elbowed him in the head sometime after Thanksgiving break, but he did not say anything at the time because it did not hurt.”
No reason was given in the report for why the incidents might have occurred.
Citing the confidentiality of personnel records, school system officials have said they can’t talk about Benedict.
But in a letter earlier this week to parents and school staff, West Principal Betty Pope outlined the response to the situation.
“A decision was made to pull the coach from his basketball coaching duties [Jan. 20] and reassign him to duties outside the classroom until both law enforcement and school system investigations could be completed and a determination made regarding continuing employment and coaching,” Pope wrote.
Benedict has been teaching for nearly 30 years, including more than eight with Forsyth County Schools.
He has been employed by the district since 2003, working first at North Forsyth High and moving to West when it opened in 2007.
He became head coach of the varsity girls basketball team in 2008, before taking over the boys program in 2010.
The Wolverines, who are scheduled to face Northview on Friday night, have lost both games without Benedict.
They are being led by assistant coach Chip Flemmer, who also teaches social studies at the school.
Flemmer has declined to comment on the Benedict situation directly, but has expressed pride in the team’s response to it.
“I was extremely pleased, because I thought the boys, despite all the adversity they’ve had, they fought through it,” he said after Tuesday night’s game against Roswell.
Players, including Mason Waters and Zach Evans, have said Benedict never was violent during practice.
“We never expected anything like this,” Waters said.
Added Evans: “He would never intend to hurt someone.”
Staff writer Phil Ervin contributed to this report.