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Records: TN school district official reported check forging before ‘suicide’

By   /   March 11, 2014  /   Comments Off

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Alex Heitman, who worked for the Oak Ridge School District, died in 2011.

His body was found some 70 miles away in Cocke County. Law enforcement ruled the death a suicide, and the case is closed, Cocke County Sheriffs Department spokesman Derrick Woods told Tennessee Watchdog.

His parents don’t believe their son killed himself.

MYSTERY: The death of Alex Heitman in Tennessee was quickly ruled a suicide.

MYSTERY: The death of Alex Heitman in Tennessee was quickly ruled a suicide.

Heitman’s parents recently uncovered police records showing their son, the school district’s supervisor of business services, approached the Oak Ridge Police Department to report that certain people were taking hundreds of dollars from the school district.

Those records, which Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn provided, reveal one of those suspects forged school district checks — taxpayer money — to buy methamphetamine. The report says nothing more about Alex Heitman’s involvement in the investigation.

“I’ve found no indication that any of these folks were school district employees,” Baughn said.

Tennessee Watchdog is still awaiting the records from Oak Ridge. On Feb. 25, we submitted to City Clerk Diana Stanley a request for the records, which she will only send via postal mail.

Alex Heitman filed the report three months before he died.

“Alex told us that people were writing phony checks using the school’s routing number,” said his mother, Annette Heitman.

“He didn’t share a lot of the details with us, though.”

AKAGI: Oak Ridge Police Chief James Akagi

AKAGI: Oak Ridge Police Chief James Akagi

Annette and her husband, Don, haven’t asked authorities to re-open the case. The Heitmans, though, told Tennessee Watchdog they want more information from law enforcement, in both Cocke County and Oak Ridge.

But what happened to the people Oak Ridge police arrested on check forgery charges?  Were they convicted?

At the very least, were Cocke County authorities, who investigated Heitman’s death, aware of what transpired in Oak Ridge?

Woods, speaking on behalf of Cocke County, only said this:  “Any matter that happens in another jurisdiction with another law enforcement is something you’ll have to speak to them directly about. Our investigation directly concerned his death in our county.”

In spite of the report clearly listing Heitman as the sole individual making the check forgery complaint to the ORPD, Police Chief James Akagi , in an emailed statement to Tennessee Watchdog, said this:

“I think it is important to note Mr. Heitman was never a complainant or reporting party in the ORPD investigation, and other than initially reporting Mr. Heitman as a missing person, ORPD did not participate in the Cocke County investigation,” he added.

All seven suspects were eventually prosecuted, Anderson County District Attorney General David Clark told Tennessee Watchdog in an email. Five of those suspects entered guilty pleas and served jail time. Another suspect’s charges were waived to a grand jury.

A grand jury decided not to indict the seventh suspect.

Oak Ridge School District Superintendent Bruce Borchers did not return messages seeking comment.

Alex was married, pursuing a doctoral degree, and had a child on the way at the time of his death, his mother said.

As Tennessee Watchdog reported last fall, two of Heitman’s guns were found at the scene. The sheriff’s department still hasn’t released them to Heitman’s father, as he requested in his will.

Woods said the sheriff’s office will not release the guns to Heitman’s family unless a probate court gets involved.

Alex’s wife had already granted legal consent for the sheriff to release the guns to the family, Annette said.

“People have told us that we need to let this go, and we need to move on with our lives,” Annette said.

“As parents we would feel like we failed him unless we found out what really happened.”

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Chris Butler is Watchdog.org's Tennessee reporter. Chris has awards from the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press as well as the Louisiana Press Association. The Drudge Report, FOX News, and Rush Limbaugh have featured or cited his articles. Chris earned a bachelor's degree from Louisiana Tech University and a master's degree from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Click the icons below to follow Chris on Facebook and Twitter.