Mr. Mayes, who declined to comment for this article, was charged with one count of criminal sexual misconduct with a minor, though his lawyer told the court that the instructor had “a strong case for innocence.” The case was later dropped, with prosecutors saying there was insufficient evidence to pursue the case.
The school district, on the other hand, ultimately averted a lawsuit by agreeing to pay about half a million dollars to three students who said Mr. Mayes acted improperly.
Obedience comes first
In J.R.O.T.C. classrooms, instructors are not just teachers. They are superior officers, and students are taught to follow the chain of command.
“Obedience is the first lesson every military person must learn,” one of the program’s textbooks says.
Abuse victims said the power dynamics in the program made it more difficult to resist sexual assaults.
One of them, Jordan Leloup, came from a troubled childhood of poverty and drugs in Tennessee and no longer had a relationship with her parents. She said she yearned for something akin to “family.”
When the J.R.O.T.C. instructor, Michael Bass, approached her one day during the 2013-14 school year about joining the program at Hendersonville High School, she said, he had an appealing sales pitch. “We are like family,” he told her.
After she joined, Mr. Bass, who was 44, invited her for dinners at his home, where she would socialize with his wife and children. Then one night, she said, she arrived to find herself alone with Mr. Bass, who had set two places at the table, with wine. He later took her to an upstairs room, where the first sexual assault occurred. She was 17.
After that, she said, Mr. Bass would tell her nearly every day where to meet him privately — sometimes in a storage room at school or in an office, where he would lock a metal door. When she began to express reluctance, she said, he pressured her.
“Any time he told me to be ready or meet him somewhere, I had to be there,” she said. “If I didn’t, there would be consequences.”
One night when she threatened to tell the police about the relationship, she said, Mr. Bass insinuated that his time in the military had given him the skills that would allow him to kill her without anyone knowing.
Ms. Leloup eventually did go to the police, who charged Mr. Bass, citing a recorded conversation in which he acknowledged a sexual relationship. He pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated statutory rape in 2019 and was sentenced to four years in prison.