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District Attorney’s office drops case against top officials at Trinity School of Midland

Mitch Borden
Marfa Public Radio
Last year, four administrators at Trinity School of Midland were arrested for allegedly attempting to conceal the sexual assault of a student. Now those charges have been dropped. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)

Nearly a year ago, four high-ranking officials with Trinity School of Midland were taken into custody by law enforcement for allegedly failing to report the abuse of a student.

Now, those charges against the administrators — which includes Shelby Hammer, the head of the school — have been dropped. The sudden dismissal came as the lawyers with the Midland County District Attorney’s office were in the middle of prosecuting the officials.

The Trinity School leaders were arrested after a former student came forward to law enforcement, detailing how she was sexually abused by a classmate in 2019. Even though the administrators were informed of the situation they allegedly did not contact the proper authorities which is required by state law.

According to court documents, prosecutors decided to drop the case following the testimony of Midland Police Sergeant Jennie Alonzo, who claimed she was directed to arrest the school administrators by Midland County DA Laura Nodolf.

“Sgt. Alonzo testified that she was acting only at the direction of District Attorney Nodolf, that she did not herself make the decision, and that if she had the opportunity to do it over she would not seek the arrest warrants,” Assistant District Attorney Tim Flathers wrote in his motion to dismiss the charges.

In a sworn affidavit responding to Alonzo’s testimony, Nodolf said the “information is false, misleading and incorrect.” Nodolf has come under fire in the past for being overly involved in police investigations, but those accusations were eventually dismissed.

On Thursday, she elaborated further in a written statement, saying Alonzo's testimony was "categorically false."

"Neither myself, nor any prosecutor in my office, possess the authority to direct any law enforcement agency to arrest, or not arrest, any suspect in a case," wrote Nodolf, who also said she initially found out Trinity officials were arrested through local news outlets.

This isn’t the first time Alonzo’s actions have come into question. She was also the lead detective in a high-profile case last year where five administrators at Midland Christian School were also arrested for allegedly failing to report the suspected abuse of a student.

That investigation fell apart when a grand jury refused to indict the school leaders, and now those administrators are suing Alonzo and the City of Midland.

Midland Mayor Lori Blong released a statement on the charges against Trinity Schools officials being dropped. She said, “This has been a difficult season in the lives of many Midland families. My prayer is that the events of yesterday will be the first step toward healing.”

Even though the mayor wrote that the events surrounding this case will be “a topic of conversation and consideration,” Blong did not say if there would be any investigation into Alonzo’s conduct.

The defense attorneys representing the four Trinity School officials released a joint statement to local news outlets calling the dismissal a “hollow victory.”

“For 425 days, the Trinity administrators have suffered under the weight of false accusations. The Trinity family has been without its leaders, mentors, and role models.” The statement continued, “these people should never have been arrested, charged, or tried in the first place.”

Even though the charges were dropped, the prosecutors are adamant these dismissals are the result of false claims of one police officer — not because the school officials are innocent.

"The State continues to believe that there exists ample credible evidence showing the guilt of the defendants,” Assistant DA Flathers wrote in the motion to dismiss. “In particular, the decision not to go forward is in no way a reflection of the credibility of the child whose unreported abuse is the subject of these charges.”

This story was updated Friday, April 28 to include a written statement from Midland County's District Attorney Laura Nodolf.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.