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La Vergne SRO fired over inappropriate conduct

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La Vergne Lake Elementary SRO Scot Appleton's employment was terminated in late February.

Rutherford County Sheriff's Office fired its second school resource officer in the past year for inappropriate conduct regarding a woman.

The department terminated La Vergne Lake Elementary SRO Scot Appleton in late February after finding he violated county electronic media policy by "repeatedly contact a female he met online" using sheriff's office and county schools email domains as well as his sheriff's office cell phone. In February 2016, the sheriff's office fired Blackman Middle SRO John Heath for similar harassing conduct.

"When the female informed (Appleton) she no longer wanted him to contact her, he instead continued to contact her with increased frequency, including abusive language. This constituted a violation of the statute of harassment/intimidation," according to a report of action signed by sheriff's office command staff.

Appleton, who worked for the sheriff's office from April 2001 to Feb. 23, 2017, got involved in an online relationship that lasted for eight months with a woman from Alberta, Canada, according to county documents. He used several email addresses to communicate with her, sending her pictures of himself in his sheriff's office uniform and of his office at La Vergne Lake.

But when she learned he was married and not the age he claimed to be, she tried to cut off the relationship and asked him to quit contacting her, documents show.

The woman received threatening emails from Appleton, including profane and vulgar language, then contacted the sheriff's office and complained about the matter to a sergeant. She said she became fearful because the tone of the emails from Appleton changed, documents show.

Sheriff's officials checked Appleton's phone and found photos of several women, but no nudity or pornographic images was found on his work computer, according to information in his personnel file.

After conducting an investigation, Capt. David Hailey recommended five days off without pay for Appleton and a transfer to the patrol division because of concerns about his continued work in a school environment.

But Lt. Brad Harrison and SRO Capt. Barry Hendrixson recommended he be fired for several reasons, including violating the electronic mail use policy and standards of conduct, failing to use his power and authority wisely and engaging in harassing behavior. They also found he violated the code of conduct law enforcement officers must follow in terms of "ethical responsibilities" and striving to uphold the "highest possible standards of professional policing."

"Deputies will behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to the sheriff's office or themselves," a letter from Harrison states.

Harassment lawsuit filed

The firing of Appleton comes about a year after the sheriff's office released Blackman Middle SRO John Heath of Milton for inappropriate conduct toward a student's mother and the middle school boy.

The woman, whose name The Post has chosen to withhold, and her son filed a lawsuit in January against Heath, Rutherford County School Board, the sheriff's office, and the school resource officers association for his alleged actions, including contacting her with inappropriate text messages after obtaining her cell phone number from the student.

According to the lawsuit, Heath developed feelings towards the woman and began texting her asking for inappropriate photos. After she denied his advances, stating he was married and she was not interested, he became agitated and began retaliating against the child at school and during extracurricular activities, the filing states.

A hearing on the case is scheduled for April in Circuit Court.

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