A few months ago, a Baker school system maintenance supervisor bought a tree trimmer with public money. Strapped for cash, he and his wife decided to sell the tool to a pawn shop, police said.

Not until this week, after a few strokes of ill fortune for the couple, did authorities learn of the indiscretion. In fact, if not for a missing screw in the tree trimmer, it’s possible the couple never would have been caught, Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps said.

Back in June, Emmit Lee Whitfield, the supervisor, purchased the trimmer for the school system for about $450, according to a police report. By August, he and his wife, Queena R. Whitfield, decided to sell the trimmer, a pole saw, to a pawn shop because they were experiencing financial troubles, the report says.

For months, the sale went unnoticed by authorities.

But on Wednesday, the saw was sold — to an East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy. And unfortunately for the couple, the tool was missing a part.

Police said the deputy soon learned the trimmer was still under warranty. But when he took the tool to a service center, the deputy was told the trimmer had been purchased by the Baker school system.

Curious, the deputy called the school system and was put in touch with Emmit Whitfield, the police report says. Whitfield told the deputy the tool had been missing for some time but that he had never reported it.

At some point, Baker police were notified, and they soon realized that Queena Whitfield was the one who pawned the tree trimmer.

When contacted by police, Emmit Whitfield told them he stole the saw from the school system. He and his wife decided to pawn the tool because they needed money, according to the police report.

Emmit Whitfield, 46, and Queena Whitfield, 45, both of Baker, were booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on counts of misdemeanor theft. The husband’s bail was set at $1,000, while the wife’s was set at $500, booking records show.

If not for the missing screw, the police chief said, the deputy may not have checked about a warranty, a move that eventually led police to the Whitfields.

“The law works in mysterious ways,” Knaps said.

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