Report on Atlanta Court Killings Is Said to Lead to Firing of Deputies
By SHAILA DEWAN
Published: July 14, 2005
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ATLANTA, July 13 - Four months after a prisoner escaped and killed three
people at the Fulton County Courthouse, Sheriff Myron Freeman has started
termination proceedings against more than 10 deputies and officers whose
actions have been criticized in the shootings, the president of the
deputies' union said Wednesday.
Letters notifying them that they would be fired came as a result of a report
concluding that deputies had failed to respond appropriately to warnings
that the prisoner, Brian Nichols, was dangerous; that they left the central
control room unattended during or immediately after the March 11 shootings;
and that they lied to investigators afterward.
The shootings have been a major embarrassment for the Sheriff's Department.
Mr. Nichols, who has pleaded not guilty to the shootings, was being escorted
by a single deputy, Cynthia Hall, when he overpowered her, beat her and took
her gun, then entered the Superior Court chambers of Judge Rowland W.
Barnes, who was presiding over his rape trial. Officials say Mr. Nichols
began a shooting spree that ended with the judge, the court reporter, a
deputy and an off-duty federal customs agent dead.
Sheriff Freeman has been criticized as slow to disclose the details of what
happened and for not acknowledging that deputies made missteps. A
spokeswoman for the sheriff confirmed that letters had gone out in response
to the report but said she could not discuss any disciplinary actions until
after employees exercised their due process rights.
The union president, Sgt. Charles Rambo, said, however, that he knew the
names of three deputies and a captain who had received the letters. He and
United States Marshal Richard Mecum, who led the commission that released
the report, said they had been told 11 to 15 officers faced termination.
The report, written by a panel of senior law enforcement officials appointed
by Sheriff Freeman, was released Friday. It gives a detailed account of
several issues raised after the shootings. Those included the department's
response to warnings from Mr. Nichols's mother, Claritha Nichols, that he
might react violently to a negative verdict in his case; the firearms
training of Deputy Hall, who had repeatedly failed to qualify; the failure
to place Mr. Nichols under "administrative lockdown" after two metal objects
were found in his shoes; and the failure to staff courtrooms and central
Marshal Mecum said the commission had found that security was not a priority
at the courthouse.
The report also found that some deputies had been compromised by personal
relationships. One deputy who the sheriff's spokeswoman said had received a
termination letter attended church with Ms. Nichols and had an e-mail
correspondence with her. The report said the deputy had told a subordinate
officer about Ms. Nichols's warnings instead of using the chain of command
and had arranged to visit Mr. Nichols and pray with him, in violation of
The report found that at the time of the shootings, a security specialist
who was supposed to be in the central control room was out buying breakfast
for a superior officer, a captain, and that three calls after the shooting -
a duress alarm, a request for a radio check and a second duress alarm - went
A deputy assigned to the control room could not account for his whereabouts
during the delay in responding, the report said.
The report said another officer, a lieutenant, said she had not taken more
precautions after being notified about the metal shanks because she had been
distracted. And the captain also told investigators that finding metal
objects on a prisoner was "casual" and "common."
Sergeant Rambo, the union president, contended that responsibility for the
breakdown involved the entire Sheriff's Department, and that individual
officers should not take the blame for a department that had been poorly
managed for years.