Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.
Grayson County grand jurors declined to file criminal charges on Wednesday against former Grayson County Fire Marshal Kevin Walton and former Assistant Fire Marshal Kerry Price. Walton and Price were terminated from employment with Grayson County following an investigation by the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office into the alteration of records of inspections of fire protection equipment.
A prepared statement from the Grayson County District Attorney’s Office said the case began in June when the Sheriff’s Office received a report from Grayson County Emergency Management Coordinator Sarah Somers, who supervised the fire marshals, that a firefighter had reported to her that a signature of another firefighter, Assistant Fire Marshal David Gallagher, had been forged on a fire equipment inspection report.
“The reporting fireman told Somers that he had witnessed Kerry Price holding a document up to a window and tracing over what appeared to be a signature. Upon questioning by investigators, Price admitted that he had traced Gallagher’s signature onto the form, and had done so at the instruction of Fire Marshal Walton. Walton initially denied ordering Price to sign the forms, but ultimately told investigators that he knew it was not Gallagher’s actual signature on the form when he had turned the forms in to the State Fire Marshal’s Office,” the statement says
It further stated that investigators ultimately determined that David Gallagher, who had left the county Fire Marshal’s office to become the fire chief in Gunter, was the only firefighter certified to inspect protective equipment as required by the State Commission on Fire Protection. A recent audit by the Commission had identified a deficiency for Grayson County’s fire program of the lack of an inspection of the equipment of a single firefighter. Although the equipment was never found to be out of compliance, Walton and Price forged the signature as a shortcut to arranging for Gallagher to inspect the equipment.
“There is no doubt what these guys did was wrong,” District Attorney Joe Brown said. “They deserved to be fired. However, the only motive for what they did was to speed up the process and get their paperwork filed more quickly. There was no evidence that the equipment was deficient or put anyone in danger. While the grand jury’s process and reasoning is confidential, I would expect they thought that losing their job was an adequate punishment.”
The charges considered by the grand jury included forgery of a government document and tampering with a government document, both third-degree felonies punishable by two to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Walton resigned his position as county fire marshal on Aug. 1 after Grayson County commissioners refused to override Sheriff Watt’s findings in his investigation.
Price did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the grand jury’s decision Wednesday. Walton declined to comment until he spoke with his attorney. Bobbie Peterson, who represented Walton, said they would have a statement at some point in the future.
The county began its fire marshal office in 2012 when Walton and David Gallagher were named fire marshal and assistant fire marshal, respectively. That move came as the county tried to deal with a round of grass fires that appeared to have been deliberately set. Walton and Gallagher were to investigate fires in the unincorporated areas of the county and make arrests where appropriate. In July 2016, Price was promoted from fire investigator to deputy fire marshal. Gallagher left the department in November.