A former nurse at Nathanael Greene Elementary School was acquitted of grand larceny last week after investigators alleged she stole money belonging to the school’s parent teacher association (PTA).
A Greene County jury on Aug. 27 returned a not guilty verdict in less than half an hour for Sasha Brown, 48, of Barboursville. Brown was arrested in March of 2017 after an investigation involving missing money at the school.
Surveillance video shown at the trial showed Brown entering the school and accessing a safe on Saturday, Feb. 4 at 6:45 a.m. While then-PTA president Tabitha Cole testified there was around $400 in the pouch on Feb. 3, NGES Principal Adam Midock said there was only $219 when he counted it on Feb. 8.
Brown’s attorney, Andre Hakes, argued that a number of people could have accessed the pouch of money in that time frame – including Cole herself, Midock or former bookkeeper Karen Olson.
Cole testified that the money from a January fundraiser sat in a pouch in a cardboard box under her kitchen table for approximately a week and a half to two weeks before she asked her mother to drop it off at NGES on Feb. 3. She also testified that parents would often take home fundraiser money at the end of the night, however, now the money is given to an administrator. When she returned to the school on Feb. 7 and asked Olson for change, Cole noticed that the pouch looked like it was missing money, but did not recount it.
“I still to this day don’t know why I didn’t count the money,” Cole said in court.
Both Midock and Greene County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Rodney Snead testified that when they questioned Brown, she said she was looking for a missing earring in the safe. Midock said that Brown was not authorized to be in the safe and was not supposed to have the code. Brown allegedly said she gained access to the safe because it would not shut properly. Snead testified that when he personally tried to open the safe, he could not get it open.
“The defendant broke the trust of her employer on Feb. 4 when she went into the safe,” Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Morgane Zander said in closing arguments. “You heard the testimony of Tabitha Cole. You saw a video of the defendant opening the safe, and all of a sudden there’s money missing. She did not have the authority to be in the safe. It’s interesting that she chose 6:45 in the morning to retrace her steps rather than the day she lost [the earring].”
Hakes responded by questioning why the commonwealth didn’t have Olson testify at the trial.
“The big question I have in this case is, ‘Where is Karen Olson?’ When Cole goes home on Jan. 20, she took all the money with her. Where’s the receipt? Who would know? Karen Olson would know, but the commonwealth didn’t call her,” Hakes said. “We don’t even know how many people had access to that safe. What if there’s not even any money missing?”
The jury ultimately sided with the defense, finding Brown not guilty after less than half an hour of deliberation.