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Former school custodian's charges go to grand jury

David Darnell (right) watches as his attorney, Will Kautz, takes notes during Darnell's preliminary hearing Wednesday afternoon in Graves District Court. Darnell was working in the custodial/maintenance department in November when he was arrested on charges stemming from police allegations he exchanged nude photos with a 16-year-old student.

SHELLEY BYRNE/The Mayfield Messenger

BY SHELLEY BYRNE sbyrne@mayfield-messenger.com

Charges against a former Graves County Schools custodian alleging he exchanged nude photos with a teenage student are heading to a grand jury.

During a preliminary hearing Wednesday, Graves District Judge Deborah Hawkins Crooks heard testimony from a state police trooper and found enough evidence existed to move David Shane Darnell's case forward.

Kentucky State Police Trooper James Luckett was the only witness during the hearing. He said he was called to Graves County High School on Nov. 8 after being told of a possible inappropriate relationship between a school district employee and the student.

Upon interviewing the 16-year-old student, Luckett said he learned that Darnell had formerly supervised the student when the student was in in-school detention the previous school year. She said that for roughly the past two weeks, she and Darnell had exchanged messages and photos, including a photo of her naked breasts and one of her buttocks in underwear. He sent her a picture of his genitalia, Luckett said.

Luckett then interviewed Darnell, who admitted exchanging the photos and knowing the girl was a student. He also allowed police to search his phone, and they recovered the nude photos of Darnell in a deleted pictures file from where he had deleted them earlier in the day, Luckett said. No photos of the girl were recovered, but she told investigators she sent them using the SnapChat social media phone application, which does not save the photos to cell phone memory. Luckett said he had not contacted SnapChat about subpoenaing the pictures that were sent using the app.

Luckett read from his notes that the girl said when Darnell received one photo, in which a bra partially covered her nudity, "He sent her a message encouraging her to show more."

Darnell's attorney, Will Kautz, asked how the school district became aware of the relationship between Darnell and the girl. Luckett said the girl had told a school bus driver. That driver had told another bus driver, who had taken it to the school board for investigation.

Kautz asked the trooper how he could be sure Darnell knew the girl's age.

"He said he continued to share pictures and talk even after he knew she was a student," Luckett said.

Kautz noted that some students could be 18 or even older.

"Did my client know she was not of age, according to your investigation?" Kautz asked.

Luckett replied, "No, he never came out and directly said that."

Crooks said she had no problem finding probable cause for the charges of promoting a sexual performance by a minor and unlawful transaction with a minor (illegal sex act - under 18). She allowed the charge of possession/viewing matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor to move forward as well, but noted that without electronic evidence of Darnell having nude pictures of the girl on his phone, the only evidence for that charge was statements Darnell and the girl made.

Crooks said she expected the case to go before the grand jury in March. Meanwhile, Darnell remains out of jail under a $7,500 cash bond.

Graves County Board of Education attorney David Hargrove said last week that Darnell is no longer employed by the school system. He had most recently been employed in the district's maintenance/custodial department doing repairs in a building behind the bus garage. Darnell's job had changed about two months before his arrest, however. He was previously a custodian at Graves County High School.