Macon police said Friday they dropped rape charges against all seven Northeast High School student suspects.
Police said the alleged victim admitted Friday falsifying the report that she was raped. She has been charged as a juvenile with falsely reporting a crime and making false statements to law enforcement.
"The young lady admitted to Macon Police Department detectives that she falsely accused seven of her classmates at Northeast," said District Attorney Greg Winters.
At a news conference Friday afternoon, police officials said they believed the young woman was involved in some kind of sexual encounter, but it was consensual. They would not comment on how many male students were involved.
The girl, who is 16 years old, had said she was repeatedly raped in a school restroom on January 19. She reported the alleged assault the next day.
"In the process there was what we think, was a key piece of evidence brought to our attention and that stepped up the timetable that we brought the alleged victim in for an interview," said Maj. Charles Stone with Macon Police.
Four students were charged as adults; three as juveniles.
Arrest warrants sought by campus police identified the adult suspects as Greg L. Watkins, 17; Antonio Deaundry Jackson, 18; Jimmie Lee McKnight, 17, and Ashley J. Clark, 17. They had been held in the Bibb County jail since their arrest on January 23 and 24.
The unidentified juvenile suspects were two 15-year-olds and a 14-year-old.
"Although it was unfortunate that they were arrested, that it came to the point that they were arrested, law enforcement in this case I think did a good job. The allegations were made there was probable cause initially to support that allegation," said Winters.
News of the reported rape, and criticism of the campus police investigation, sparked new controversy around Bibb County schools superintendent Romain Dallemand.
The school district and Northeast administrators came under fire because parents of Northeast students were not notified about the incident and the school district did not report it until January 24 -- after news media asked about it.
The school district's campus police did not turn the case over to Macon police, sparking further criticism.
In his first public comment on the case, on January 31, Dallemand said he had been unaware for ten days that campus police had retained jurisdiction of the case.
The interim chief of campus police, Stephanie Prater, was put on administrative leave the same day and replaced, and Dallemand said the case would be turned over to Macon police.
Emails later released by Prater's attorney indicated that Prater was keeping Dallemand's assistant Alisha Allen-Carter regularly informed about the investigation and she knew campus police were still in charge.
Prater's attorney, Charles Cox, says her job status remains unchanged Friday: "She remains on leave."
He said he doesn't expect the dropped charges to affect her case: "She handled the case properly and acted appropriately on the information they gathered at the time. He said the seven arrests simply indicated "whether or not there was probable cause."
"An arrest does not establish guilt," he said. "She handled the case correctly at the point she was in charge of it. Neither she nor I have any knowledge of what's happened since."
He said Prater "looks forward to getting back to work."
After concluding a presentation at the Macon Coliseum on his strategic plan Friday afternoon, Dallemand declined comment on the case.
Earlier, the district released this statement:
"The Bibb County School District was informed Friday afternoon that Campus Police was called in by the District Attorney's Office and informed that the sexual assault charges against all seven Northeast High School students were dropped after the alleged victim recanted her story Friday morning. New information in the case Thursday led officers to re-interview the female student, when she then admitted that the acts that took place January 19, 2012, were consensual.
"The Bibb County School District continues to cooperate with the District Attorney's Office and Macon Police Department, the lead investigating agency in this case."
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert calls the incident "appaling."
He says the district's next step is to focus on keeping it from happening again.
"People are not going to put any sort of credibility in a system where this kind of incident can happen at the school," Reichert says, "It's terrible when you hear about violence in the school and about young people being bullied or having fights and getting physically assaulted. Those are the kinds of things that do as much damage to the reputation of the school system, almost if not as much, as bad scholastic performance."