Pair of Tennessee College of Applied Technology teachers arrested

John Thompson • Oct 29, 2013 at 5:23 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Two teachers of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology — Elizabethton were arrested Monday as a part of the ongoing investigation of some faculty and staff members by the Carter County Sheriff’s Department.

David Scott Simerly, 45, 722 Woodland Drive, was charged with communicating a threat to a school employee and Joseph T. Churchwell, 33, 2601 John B. Dennis Highway, No. 409, Kingsport, was charged with theft under $500.

“These charges are a result of the investigation of allegations of misconduct and alleged criminal activities at the school,” Sheriff Chris Mathes said. The investigation was triggered by allegations that the college director, Dean Blevins, had used student and faculty resources and school materials and resources to renovate a houseboat Blevins owns on Boone Lake.

The allegations involving the houseboat were previously examined by a review of allegations of inappropriate use of standards by the Tennessee Board of Regents. The review found no wrongdoing, but said the “performing of live work projects on the director’s houseboat created at least the perception of a conflict of interest.”

Mathes began his investigation after the review was completed. “After the sheriff’s deparment investigation was publicized in the media, more students and others have come forward to provide us with information,” Mathes said.

One of those was a former student, who contacted the sheriff’s department Oct. 24 with videos taken from his cell phone in July.

The student met with Lt. Tim Horne, who copied six videos and one voice-only recording. Horne reported that the person doing most of the talking in the videos was identified as Simerly, who is a heating and air conditioning instructor at the school. Mathes said the videos were “disturbing” because of the profanity used and the fact that it took place in a class setting.

“I noted that he appeared to be extremely agitated and visibly upset with a co-worker,” Horne said.

Horne said it appeared Simerly was upset with the co-worker because he believed she had released information to a private investigator looking into the boathouse allegations. He said the private investigator was apparently checking out allegations that work and materials were being used to increase the value of the boat house in violation of Tennessee Board of Regents Policies 1-02-03-10, conflict of interest; and 4-01-05-50, fraud.

Horne said in one of the videos, “during a tirade of constant profanity Simerly said ‘I will go up there and slap the (expletive) out of her today.’ Additionally, he claims he told Blevins what he said because ‘I hope he goes and tells her what I said.’ ” Horne said the videos also show Simerly telling his students that his wife was interested in becoming involved in a physical altercation with the co-worker.

Horne said the co-worker was not aware of the threats and did not know any reason Simerly would harbor such contempt against her. Horne allowed her to watch the videos, which shocked her and caused her to fear for her safety.

Horne interviewed Simerly and said he initially denied making the threats, but after Horne showed him the videos, he admitted to making the statements. He told Horne he was just aggravated over the private investigator snooping around and bothering the students.

Horne said the charge against Churchwell also came as a result of the overall investigation. Upon hearing an allegation that Churchwell was taking scrap steel and metal engines to OmniSource and keeping the proceeds, Horne went to the scrap metal dealer.

He said the company provided photographic evidence that Churchwell took engines with a total weight of 738 pounds and shredder steel with a total weight of 1,470 pounds to Omnisource on April 19. He received $353.60 for the metal, Horne reported. He said he verified the money was never deposited or turned over to the college.

Horne said he interviewed Churchwell on Oct. 25 and Churchwell said he kept the money for personal use.

Mathes said his investigation is continuing and he has requested the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to assist. He said there may be more arrests to follow. No charges have been placed against Blevins.

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