Richmond County's school superintendent and the district attorney are defending their decision not to seek prosecution of a Glenn Hills High School bookkeeper who stole $14,400 in student activities funds.
"It is the victim's decision of whether to file ... and we're the victim," said Superintendent Dana Bedden.
District Attorney Ashley Wright, who honored the school system's request to not prosecute, said she was contacted a few weeks ago by school safety Lt. Richard Roundtree, who told her the bookkeeper, Bridgette Thompkins, had agreed to pay restitution -- something Wright said is rare without prosecution.
"There also was a goal of getting the money back as quickly as possible, especially since it could directly affect the students," she wrote in an e-mail.
Wright said that although she wasn't aware of the specifics of the case, she was sure the school system had good reason to offer a deal.
"We would honor those reasons in the absence of something that would lead us to do otherwise," Wright said, adding, "If they made a decision, they would have had reasons to do so."
Some area law enforcement officials, though, said it's not solely up to the victim to determine whether charges should be filed.
"Just because (victims) sign a waiver doesn't mean charges won't be filed," said Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris. "It's on a case-by-case basis. In most cases, when the school system calls us and/or alerts us to a crime that crime is investigated and prosecuted accordingly."
Richmond County sheriff's Maj. Ken Autry said victims' wishes are taken into account but aren't necessarily a deciding factor.
"I'm not second-guessing them," he said, adding that he wasn't aware of all the details in the Glenn Hills case, "but I have seen nothing that would have made us not prosecute. I just can't believe that (the district attorney's office) would say not to prosecute unless they saw something."
Had a deal not been struck, law enforcement authorities say the case would have constituted at least a felony theft by taking charge, which carries a punishment of one to 10 years in jail upon conviction.
Although the case didn't go through the sheriff's office, Bedden reiterated that it was reported to the county's school safety office, a sworn law enforcement department with arresting powers and the authority to file charges in court. Autry said the school safety department often handles its own cases and typically calls the sheriff's office in only as backup.
Columbia County has a memorandum of understanding that requires any crime committed at a school to be reported to the sheriff's office, Morris said. He recalled a 2004 case in which a former president of the Lakeside High School Band Booster Club was charged with felony theft by taking after being accused of stealing more than $12,000. The incident was reported after an audit by the Columbia County Board of Education.
Bedden didn't immediately respond Thursday to a phone message and e-mail asking whether he had consulted school board members before the decision to not prosecute. Board member Frank Dolan said he was informed after the fact.
"I would like to have been more in the loop, but I'm satisfied that what we did was right," Dolan said.
In the future, he said, he would hope to be informed before any similar decisions.