BROOKLAND — An investigation into missing equipment from the Brookland School District has been closed because there was no crime that could be pinned on any one person, the investigator told The Sun on Friday.
On Oct. 6, Craighead County Sheriff Criminal Investigations Division Sgt. David Vaughn was called to take a report on stolen industrial mixers that were taken from the school.
According to the report, two of the school’s old industrial mixers were given by a school employee to part-time Brookland Police Officer Danny Hathcoat, who then sold one of the mixers to the owner of Jim’s Pizza for $1,200, the report shows.
“Because the incident involved a Brookland officer, the Brookland Police Department called in the Craighead County Sheriff’s Department,” Vaughn said.
Other items reported missing from the school district included:
A mower that was sold to Sharp’s Small Engines in Brookland.
A shower stall from the school’s science lab.
Lumber that was used for personal use by an employee, but charged to the Brookland district’s charge account at Gazaway Lumber in Paragould.
A barrel of diesel oil.
And items stolen from the Brookland Football Booster Club.
Other allegations in the report included employees personal use of school equipment after school hours.
Vaughn said he investigated the allegations thoroughly.
When he spoke to the owner of Sharp’s Small Engines, Randy Sharp, Vaughn said Sharp said he bought an old mower from school district employee Rob Ingram several years ago.
Sharp said Ingram was paid $250 for the mower.
Vaughn also interviewed Hathcoat about the mixers. Hathcoat said he received the mixers from Ingram. He said Ingram told him the mixers had been written off of school inventory, and the district was just wanting to get rid of them.
Vaughn said he verified that with Superintendent Keith McDaniel, who displayed the paperwork showing the mixers were indeed written off of school inventory. Hathcoat told Vaughn none of the money he received for the mixers was given back to the school.
Vaughn interviewed Ingram about the missing items after he was read his Miranda rights.
Ingram said since the mixers were off the books, he did not feel it was necessary to inform the school they had been given to Hathcoat.
Ingram was also questioned on Dec. 17 about lumber he charged to the district’s account and had delivered to the district, but then used for personal use.
Ingram said Gazaway Lumber had mistakenly charged the lumber to the school’s account and he went back and paid for the lumber out of his own pocket.
Eiland Wilson, who also works for the Brookland School District, said he obtained a copy of the bill from Gazaway Lumber. Wilson said he turned Ingram in for buying lumber on the school’s charge account.
“He had that lumber delivered to the school and made a school employee unload it,” Wilson said, noting he then loaded the lumber and took it to his residence.
Wilson said Ingram was called in by school administrators and told to go pay for the lumber to reimburse the school.
“They made him pay for it,” Wilson said. “He should have been fired right then.”
Wilson said the district sent another employee, Anthony Hunt, with Ingram to make sure the charges were paid.
Wilson said there are other school district items missing from the maintenance department, including a backhoe used for the tractors the district owns, a mini-excavator and a welder.
Wilson said those items were returned after missing for more than four months during the pandemic.
Hunt was questioned on Dec. 18, and told Vaughn he knew the mixers had been given to Hathcoat. Hunt also admitted a loader attachment belonging to the school had been sold to Hathcoat, and the check was given to the district. Hunt also said he was aware there was a mower taken to Sharp’s but was not aware of any payment received.
Hunt also admitted to using the school’s excavator for personal use on his land in Bono with the superintendent’s permission and also admitted to using the school’s welder for personal use.
Vaughn said when he questioned McDaniel on Oct. 17, about school policy on using school equipment for personal use, McDaniel said the district’s policy allowed for such situations.
“They had a verbal policy that employees could use school equipment,” Vaughn said. “McDaniel said it was something done by the school’s previous administration and he had not changed the policy until recently.”
Much to his dissatisfaction, Vaughn said he had to close the investigation without filing charges.
“There was nothing I could use to build a case or prosecute on,” he said. “At the most, anything that would have been done was past the statute of limitations and it would have been a misdemeanor case. It’s like you see something that looks bad, but I couldn’t find anything to gain traction with.”
Vaughn said one Brookland School Board member contacted him for copies of the report. He said the board member contacted him again requesting a copy of his report be sent to all Brookland School Board members.
School Board President Heath McGaughey said Friday he had not seen a copy of the report and said he was unaware of any of the incidents.
Moments later he changed that statement.
“I am aware there are both an investigation and an audit,” he said. “We have been told to direct all questions regarding this case to Assistant Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Reddick or to Superintendent Keith McDaniel.”
Vaughn said there is no record of the items being auctioned off as surplus property. As far as the school allowing the use of school-owned items for personal use by employees, Vaughn said something seems off about that.
“I work for a federal agency, and they don’t let us do that,” he said.
Vaughn said he also spoke to the auditors. “They said this is not policy and should have never happened.”
McDaniel did not return phone calls Friday for comment but instead instructed Brookland School District Attorney Donn Mixon to be the spokesperson.
“The district is doing its own investigation,” Mixon said, noting the school’s head of security, Doug Foreman. is the one conducting it. Mixon said he felt like there were inconsistencies in the report issued by the Craighead County Sheriff’s Department.
Mixon said there is no record of the school receiving a check from Hathcoat for the purchase of a loader attachment, and there is no record of the various processes a district would have to go through in order to properly dispose of the property.
“There is no verification of that,” he said. “The district must show they have done an appropriate investigation. They have to report it to the legislative audit.”