Eagle Arts Academy’s executive director became the target of a theft investigation Monday after authorities say he took video cameras belonging to a church that rents space on the campus, the latest flareup at the charter school as its future becomes increasingly uncertain.
After church leaders reported at least one camera stolen Monday, school director Gregory Blount admitted to taking it but initially refused a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy’s directive to return it, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said.
“He said ‘I’m not bringing it back until I talk with my lawyer,’” the spokeswoman, Teri Barbera, said. “We’re investigating it as a theft of a camera.”
UPDATE: Blount returned two missing cameras Tuesday afternoon, the church’s pastor said. Barbera said Wednesday that deputies closed the case after the church declined to press charges.
Neither Blount nor an attorney for the school responded Tuesday to a message seeking comment.
The cameras were among several that NewSound Church used to monitor its equipment on the Wellington campus as tensions mounted recently between the church and the school’s controversial leader.
Blount has been seen in recent days packing up school equipment and removing it from the premises, raising questions about whether the school is leaving the campus that it rents on Wellington Trace. The property is owned by ESJ Capital Partners.
As he removed the church’s cameras, Blount appeared unaware that they were recording his actions. Video footage obtained by The Palm Beach Post showed him picking up a camera, looking into the lens and placing it in a box.
Blount told a television news reporter last week that the school may move to a new location but said it will try to open when classes resume Aug. 13.
But the Palm Beach County School Board is fighting in court to close the school amid allegations of financial mismanagement. Last week, school district leaders decided to stop providing money to it as the effort to terminate the school’s charter languishes in court.
Eagle Arts has not paid rent to the property owner since fall. In November, the school agreed to a sublease with NewSound for office space and use of the school auditorium for Sunday services.
But last month, Blount abruptly ordered the church to leave, just days after cashing the church’s rent check, said Pastor Josh Mauney. The church declined to leave, arguing that it was in compliance with the terms of its sublease.
“We have an agreement and we have stuck by our side of it completely,” Mauney said.
Tensions worsened last week when Mauney said the school changed the locks on the auditorium, locking his congregation out of the church site.
Then on Saturday, less than 24 hours before the church’s Sunday morning services, Mauney said church leaders arrived to find the auditorium doors bolted shut.
Church officials said they called the sheriff’s office. They provided the responding deputies with a copy of their lease and bank records showing Blount had cashed their latest rent check just days earlier.
Deputies said they couldn’t break the bolts on the church’s behalf but that church leaders would be within their rights to do so, Mauney said. Church workers opened the doors with bolt cutters Sunday morning and held Sunday services.
Mauney declined to comment on the church’s cameras, other than to say that they had been returned Tuesday. He said he hoped that tensions would ease once Blount has moved the school’s equipment off the property.
“There have been U-Hauls there Friday, Saturday and again (Monday),” Mauney said. “He is obviously not staying in the facility, but he is obviously trying to punish us as he gets out.”