The former supervisor of the county’s school resource officer program spent thousands of tax dollars on guns and gadgets he kept after his retirement in February and only returned after an investigation into the purchases was launched by law enforcement.
Eight weapons, including two rifles and a shotgun, worth roughly $4,000 were purchased with school system money though none of the officers ever received the firearms and the superintendent said the purchases were not approved.
All of the purchases were made between November 2013 and October 2015 on a Hall County Board of Education credit card and were registered under the name of Lt. Earl Roach, who retired Feb. 29, according to a Sheriff’s Office internal affairs report obtained by The Times.
“It appears that he just took it upon himself to kind of put together this mobile command station that none of us knew anything about,” Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said last week.
Roach’s purchases totalling $10,164.64, including video equipment, a drone and firearms, led to an internal affairs investigation at the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and now an independent inquiry by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Cellphone and home telephone numbers listed for Roach were not in service when called by The Times.
All of the purchased items have been returned to Hall County, with the weapons secured at the Sheriff’s Office.
“Anytime you use taxpayer money, there needs to be a definite system of checks and balances in place,” Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said. “I did not see that with these purchases that he made, and it caused me great concern as I looked through that list of items because we would have never approved any of those purchases.”
Roach, a 25-year veteran of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, retired shortly after a minor traffic collision in a county vehicle, which he originally denied, according to the internal affairs report.
A Gainesville woman had stopped Dec. 7 at a light on Ga. 60 at Linwood Drive.
“(The woman) saw Lt. Roach through her rear view mirror driving with what appeared to be both hands on the wheel and his cellphone (turned sideways) in his hands,” according to the internal affairs report obtained by The Times. “Lt. Roach never stopped and struck the rear of her company vehicle.”
In February, an insurance claim demanding $1,429 for bumper damage was submitted to Hall County, according to the internal affairs report.
Couch said standard operating procedure for officer-involved collisions is to notify a supervisor immediately to create a report and have a drug screen completed. Neither were completed in this case, Couch said.
“Roach, when asked by Lt. Donna Welsh about being in an accident, did not feel that he lied, and did not feel that the incident was a wreck,” according to the report. “Lt. Roach stated that he had forgotten all about it.”
Following his retirement, an accounting manager for the Hall County Board of Education compiled a list of purchases made by Roach.
“When somebody who’s been working with us that had any purchasing ability leaves, we always ask our budget department to do a kind of an audit of where all the stuff is they bought,” Schofield said.
Schofield said there are three credit cards: one he uses himself, one managed by Deputy Superintendent Lee Lovett to cover all miscellaneous purchases for the departments, and one for the food services director. The card used by Roach was the one issued to Lovett.
Couch said there is shared funding between the school system and the Sheriff’s Office, but school resource officers still fall under his purview and chain of command.
“All of these purchases were made outside of the chain of command, and again, I would state we would never approve those purchases,” Couch said.
Of particular concern to Couch were the weapons purchased: two semi-automatic AR-style rifles and a shotgun. Law enforcement officers are required to qualify on a specific weapon to use in the field.
“Some of those would never be approved, because they’re not law-enforcement quality weapons,” Couch said.
According to the internal affairs report, Roach allegedly told a person in the school finance department when handing in the gun receipts that they were “all super-secret” and the purchases had been “approved by the superintendent and the board,” according to Lovett’s statements to authorities.
Schofield said this was “90 percent inaccurate,” as Roach had been instructed about purchasing a sidearm for one school resource officer.
“The guy with the badge who’s over security says, ‘This is hush-hush. We need to get this.’ That put those ladies in a very awkward position,” Schofield said of the employees handling the board of education’s finances.
Board chairman Nath Morris said they never authorized any firearm purchases beyond the one school resource officer sidearm.
Two sergeants in the school resource officer program told the investigator that none of his officers ever received any high-priced items or weapons, to their knowledge.
Lovett said he “did not know those guns had been purchased until after the fact,” but the deputy superintendent had approved the purchase of a $1,938 drone that Roach bought in October.
“In case you have a problem at the school, you would have the ability to do surveillance,” Lovett said. “And it could be used by the facilities division in doing surveying topographical sort of stuff. It seemed reasonable to me.”
Roach also purchased a 65-inch LED television that he allegedly told Lovett was “mounted in Roach’s basement so he could monitor the schools,” according to the internal affairs report.
Couch, Schofield and Lovett had no knowledge of whether the TV was used for this purpose, though Schofield said the school system has made a large push to have remote access to school security cameras.
“I sure didn’t know anything about people having large screens at their home to do that and can’t say whether he did or whether he didn’t,” he said.
When all of the items were returned to the school system, Lovett stated “as far as they are concerned, this was over” and the items were now considered authorized purchases, according to the internal affairs report.
Lovett said he did not refer to any item as unauthorized or authorized, saying Roach had discretion to make purchasing decisions.
“He had the ability to buy what he needed to run the program up to $10,000 a year, which is not much money,” Lovett said.
Gary Stewart, who served as the board of education’s director of administrative services, used to supervise the school resource officer budgetary items before his retirement in 2014.
“We did not have any problem purchases before that time,” Lovett said.
After Stewart left the post in June 2014, Lovett said no one filled that specific capacity until a few months ago with purchasing and safety coordinator David Robles.
“The fact that people come and go and during the tough economic time we cut back on staff dramatically isn’t an excuse for this. We still have processes in place,” Schofield said.
Lovett said he was approached in September about worrisome purchases made, and that’s when he said he first became aware of the purchase of firearms.
The deputy superintendent said he approached Schofield and then Roach about the purchases.
“I got with Mr. Roach and told him if there’s any guns that need to be bought, we need to get the Sheriff’s Department to buy them and we’d reimburse them,” Lovett said.
Lovett said Roach did not disclose the purchase of other weapons.
“I had no idea he was buying them,” Lovett said. “Had I known he was buying them, I would have stopped him, but I didn’t find out until late in the game.”
Schofield said the technological items purchased would find use somewhere within the school system. The Sheriff’s Office would handle the weapons and eventually put the credit back on the school system’s account, he said.