School officials, law enforcement officers hold meeting about camera found in bathroom

School officials, law enforcement officers hold meeting about camera found in bathroom

JEFFERSON DAVIS COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Jefferson Davis Sheriff's Department members, J.E Johnson and school district officials held a parent meeting Tuesday to address questions and concerns about a camera found in a school restroom last week.

"Last week was a roller coaster ride for us," Superintendent Will Russell said.

Russell said the meeting was to clear up any questions parents had about the camera being found, the arrest and firing of fifth grade teacher Arthur Martin and the way the school and school district handled the situation.

One of the biggest questions from parents, why were they not notified by J.E. Johnson that a camera was found in the boys' bathroom?

"Why didn't I call parents? I could not," Principal Carrie Hammond-Walker said. "I had to first work through the superintendent's office and through the sheriff's department. I had to communicate through my superintendent, and I had to communicate through the sheriff's department or I would have been the one without a job because I had violated the code of ethics."

She also broke down how the day played out when they found the camera. Walker said another teacher actually found the camera in the bathroom, and then told her.

"We ran quickly to the bathroom," Walker said. "I saw the camera in the bathroom. I called maintenance first. Then I called IT next, and then I called the superintendent. IT told me to call the police, and we did that quickly. Ms. Stewart and I covered the camera. Mr. Russell asked me for a picture of the camera. I went back to get a picture of the camera, and the camera was gone. Now we're trying to figure out what happened to the camera because we barricaded the restroom."

That is when Walker said the sheriff's department arrived and she turned over the investigation to them.

"(On) Thursday morning when I found out that the personnel that were here was the reason camera was in the restroom and admitted to putting it there, that was enough for me to do what I had to do," Russell said. "And that was to terminate."

Parents also had concerns that the district or school did not do a proper background check on Martin before hiring, but school board member Von Norwood said that is not the case.

"That was done," Norwood said. "I want to assure you that everything that should have been done, was done. It was an unfortunate situation."

John Wayne Tollar, investigator for the Jefferson Davis Sheriff's Department, said they will not be able to provide a full report about what was on the camera until the MBI and sheriff's department investigations are finished. However, he said if any children are found on video, he said the parents would be the first people notified.

"If we see a child on there, we'll be calling the parents first because we can't interview a child without a parent present," Tollar said.

He said those interviews could take place at a child advocacy center in Jackson if they are needed. Russell also said the district would provide psychological counseling for any child who may need it if he was found on the video.

This caused some parents to ask those leading the meeting to stop assuring them that no child was harmed until they have seen the video.

"To keep saying no child was harmed, you don't know that," the parent said.

Russell agreed that he could not guarantee this.

"I don't know what they're going to find," Russell said. "We didn't see it. We're not to investigate those types of things, you know? We turned it over to the authorities. So you're exactly right. So I apologize for that being in my statement because I based that off of what I got Thursday morning. I mean this from the heart, we really do pray that there's nobody's child harmed with this videoing."

Tollar said parents should not be concerned to send their students to school.

"I'll be the first one to tell you, if I thought that it wasn't safe for your child to be here, I'd be out there and keep the buses from unloading," Tollar said. "I'd be here in my patrol car saying '(I) ain't coming today.'"

Tollar also said Martin bonded out of jail after being arrested Wednesday.

Russell said there is not anything else for the district to do until the investigation is complete, and said he is looking forward to moving past this incident and getting back to educating children.