Heritage High principal testifies in hand injury case

Heritage High principal testifies in hand injury case

March 18th, 2014 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Heritage baseball coach Eric Beagles watches his team from the third base box at Ringgold.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Ronnie Bradford

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

The trial of a North Georgia mother charged with filing false reports likely will come down to whether a photo of an alleged injury her son suffered was fabricated.

"A picture is worth a thousand words," Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Chris Arnt said in his opening statement Monday. "This case is going to come down to a picture and the law that picture represents."

Davida Kaye Caylor's son, a Heritage High School freshman, and his assistant principal got into an argument in an office last year. The boy said the principal grabbed his hand, twisted it and slammed it on a desk. The principal said he simply set his phone back on its receiver when the boy grabbed it.

Either way, Gregory Aaron Black left the office with a bruised right hand. The school nurse confirmed that, and so did a doctor at Hutcheson Medical Center.

But, three weeks after the incident, the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office arrested Caylor. After she filed a complaint with the sheriff's office against the assistant principal, Detective Freddie Roden said he didn't believe one of the photos that was supposed to show Black's injured hand was genuine.

The picture showed a bruise so severe that the hand was blue. But Roden said the photo was fabricated -- either somebody created it, or somebody pulled a random picture from the Internet and claimed it was Black's hand. The Catoosa County Sheriff's Office then arrested Caylor on a charge of filing false reports.

On Monday, more than a year later, Arnt began Caylor's trial in Catoosa County Superior Court by telling the jury and Judge Kristina Cook Graham that Caylor fabricated that photo to damage the reputation of Eric Beagles, Heritage High School's assistant principal and baseball coach.

But Caylor's attorney argued that was not true. Richard Murray said Caylor had no reason to fabricate any pictures; she provided several other undisputed photos to the sheriff's office. And, Murray said, Caylor wasn't the one who even took the picture in question. In fact, her son took the photo while in the school nurse's office about 30 minutes after his confrontation with Beagles.

Caylor's son later posted the photo on Facebook, which eventually led to Caylor's arrest. But, Murray said, the evidence presented during the trial will prove that the sheriff's office mistreated Caylor, and that Roden never intended to investigate Beagles after Caylor filed the complaint.

He said Caylor offered Roden audio recordings that would help prove that Beagles abused her son, but the detective instead focused on whether one of the pictures provided to him was fake.

"He refused to listen to it," Murray told the jury of the audio recording. "He didn't have to listen to it. He ignored it and ignored it and ignored it."

While the trial revolves around whether Caylor fabricated a photo, the attorneys focused the first day on what specifically happened between Beagles and Black. And, when Heritage High School Principal Ronnie Bradford took the stand, Murray presented an audio recording in which Bradford alludes to the argument between the student and the administrator.

Five days after the incident last year, Bradford and Caylor met to talk about what happened. The principal told Caylor that her son's hand was bruised after leaving Beagles' office. Bradford also told her that Beagles provided a different version of events than Black did.

"What we did was not reacting appropriately," Bradford said in the audio recording. "I just kind of put that out of my mind: Aaron's story is this; coach Beagles' story is this. But either way, it doesn't matter. Coach Beagles ... he knew that what he had done was not the appropriate thing."

Beagles and Heritage High School custodian Curtis Lones took the stand. Beagles testified that he brought Black into his office to discipline him for making inappropriate comments in the lunch room.

He told Black he would receive three days of in-school suspension. Black said he wouldn't accept that and would be calling his dad.

Then, Beagles said, the boy grabbed the phone on his desk and lifted it about a foot off its receiver. Beagles said he grabbed the phone, too, and "firmly" placed it back on its receiver. Beagles then brought Black to Bradford's office.

On Monday, Beagles said Black's fingers could have gotten trapped between the phone and the receiver, but the contact was not hard enough to cause a bruise. He said Black's hands looked "perfectly fine" at the time.

Murray asked Beagles if he felt he handled the situation properly. He said his actions were appropriate.

"Under oath, you'd say that," Murray asked.

"Yes sir."

Lones, the custodian, then testified that on the day in question, he saw Black slap the back of his hand against a wall before visiting Beagles' office. However, when Lones later looked at the school's surveillance video, the wall slap did not show up.

"It was a dead spot in the tape," Lones testified Monday.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. today.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.