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Money misdeeds lead to oversight changes in Hall sheriff’s office
Misuse of funds by jail clerk, resource officer create new policy safeguards
Hall County Sheriff's Office.jpg

Hall County Sheriff’s Office officials have added layers of oversight and policy changes following two cases of former employees who were investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for misdeeds.

In the case of a former jail clerk who pleaded guilty to stealing from inmate accounts, more officials now take responsibility to sign off on release of funds.

In the case of a former school resource officer accused of buying unneeded weapons and other gear with school funds, more review of budgetary purchases has been put in place.

In April, former jail clerk Trina Burtch took a plea under the First Offender Act for transaction card theft, leading to six months in prison and 30 months probation.

Her attorney did not return a request for comment.

If she fulfills the terms of the sentence, the court will discharge the offense without “adjudication of guilt and (she) shall be completely exonerated of guilt,” according to court documents.

The sheriff’s office had just switched commissaries at the Hall County Jail, and Burtch was largely responsible for clearing the inmate financial accounts when a person departed the jail, Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said..

“If the inmate has been completely released and is no longer in custody at all, they issue a debit card. ... If that inmate is going to be transferred to another facility, another county jail or prison system, they are issued a check,” Couch said.

According to an investigative file by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the family of an inmate complained about missing funds after he was supposed to be transferred to another facility.

All told, Burtch was accused of taking $974 from 14 different inmate accounts.

“Clearly, there needed to be greater oversight, and we now have in place where a sergeant, a supervisor, reviews and actually signs off on all those releases of debit cards or checks to the inmates,” Couch said.

That paperwork is then signed off on by a lieutenant and potentially more of the command staff, leading to greater checks and balances as well as a paper trail.

The GBI was contacted Nov. 11, 2014, to investigate the missing funds.

When interviewed by the GBI, Burtch told investigators she was experiencing financial hardship. The funds were used for gas, food, hotel rooms and her cellphone bill, according to the file.

“Burtch stated she wanted to pay the money back and had already received a cashier’s check in the amount of $150 that she wanted to take back to sheriff’s office,” according to the GBI investigative file.

The second case closed within the last month is Lt. Earl Roach, a former school resource officer accused of spending more than $10,000 on a school purchasing card last year for weapons and other items. The purchases were made on a Hall County School System card.

“That was one of those unique situations where we absolutely had no idea,” Couch said.

The items included two AR-style rifles and a shotgun, weapons Couch said an officer would not be eligible to use in a law enforcement capacity.

“I felt that there was absolutely no need to have those things, and I would think that he would know that,” Couch said.

Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said there were issues preventing him from successfully prosecuting the case, telling the GBI in an Oct. 19 letter that no charges would be filed.

One reason included Deputy Superintendent Lee Lovett reportedly calling the purchases “authorized” after the items were returned to the county.

Couch said Capt. Joe Carter is now overseeing the school resource officer program, adding the captain has a good relationship with the school.

“If there is a specific item that one of the SROs or all of them need, that’s handled through our budgetary process at the sheriff’s office. There may be some discussion with the school system depending on what that would be, if they would help purchase that,” Couch said.

Couch said the weapons purchased were held in evidence while the case was being closed, and the department would have to determine how to dispose of the weapons.