First came an invitation in December from District Attorney Julia Slater asking the GBI to inquire into an traffic accident that led to the death of a school bus driver and a separate incident that caused a troubled seventh grader to lose his leg.
The latest request — unrelated to Slater’s — came last week from Superior Court Judge Gil McBride whose written request asks the state agency to come into the local jurisdiction “to investigate allegations of criminal activity in the local school district.”
Public Affairs Director Nelly Miles confirmed the chief judge’s request on Friday and said the GBI will be reviewing charges “relative to the Muscogee County School District.” She would not release details of the allegations.
Sources in the school system tell All On Georgia-Muscogee that the latest accusations involve settlement of a $550,000 law suit involving a school bus driver who was involved in an accident with a motor squad officer in October 2015. At issue are claims that payment was made without school board approval of the expenditure.
The case began when school bus driver Kenneth Canup caused a Columbus Police Department motorcycle to go out of control injuring Officer William Green on Whitesville Road.
A report in the Ledger-Enquirer at the time of the incident said the 74-year-old Canup was cited. He was turning left into the Double Churches Elementary School parking lot when he encroached into the lane of Green’s motorcycle that was approaching with its siren sounding and blue lights flashing.
School district attorney Greg Ellington of Hall Booth Smith P.C. represented the bus driver and Steven J. Hodges and Ben Phillips of Phillips Branch & Hodges represented the police officer. The suit was “Dismissed with Prejudice” in Muscogee Superior Court on Nov. 30, 2016. The $550,000 settlement was finalized on Nov. 4, 2016 without the approval of the Muscogee County School Board.
This is apparently in violation of Georgia law O.C.G.A. 20-2-410:
“When funds are drawn under apportionment and any funds raised by local taxation are placed in the hands of the county school superintendent, he shall be liable on his official bond as treasurer for all amounts received and shall disburse the funds only upon order of the county board of education, and the superintendent shall not be entitled to compensation for receiving any funds as provided by this code section.”
The GBI chose not to look into the district attorney’s earlier accusations at that time because the incident involving 13-year-old Montravious Thomas is being investigated by the Columbus Police Department and the state agency did not want to conduct a parallel investigation.
Slater asked the GBI to investigate the alleged body slamming of the student by a contract employee in a classroom at the Edgewood Student Services Center on Sept. 12, 2016 and a possible cover-up of the case by school officials.
Thomas did not receive medical attention at the school and on Oct. 18 doctors at an Atlanta hospital were forced to amputate his right leg. Lawyers for Thomas are expected to file suit against the school district at any time.
Slater’s request also involved a pre-school accident on Aug. 22, 2016 when school bus driver Roy Newman ran off the pavement on Garrett Road and slammed into a tree. Newman later died at the Midtown Medical Center. Seven students from Mathews Elementary School were injured. The wreck was later ruled an accident.
The two separate requests follow legal protocol. State law says the GBI is an assisting agency and can only respond to requests from certain local officials:
- Governing officials of a municipality
- District Attorneys
- Superior Court Judges
- Chief law enforcement officers of any municipality
- Chiefs of county police departments (in counties with population in excess of 100,000)
- Chiefs of regular or volunteer fire departments (in suspected arson cases)
- Governor of Georgia (by directive)