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Fulton County Reinstates Deputies Fired in Killing Rampage

After the March 11, 2005 killing rampage by Brian G. Nichols at an Atlanta courthouse, Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman talked tough about punishing officers who failed to perform their duties or lied during the ensuing investigation. He initially followed through by firing eight people, including Maj. Orlando Whitehead, Maj. Lucious D. Johnson, Capt. Chelisa Lee, Lt. Twantta Mathis, Sgt. Jerome Dowdell, Deputy Paul Tamer, Deputy Joel Middlebrooks and detention officer Barron Ross.

Since that firing, six of those eight employees have been reinstated to their jobs. Of those six only two are currently working for the Sheriff, at the county jail. Two other officers, a sergeant and a lieutenant, received unpaid suspensions; Freeman also issued written reprimands or counseling letters to three more staff members.

PLN has previously reported on Nichols? violent escape from the Fulton County courthouse, which started when he overpowered a deputy and took her gun. See: PLN, April, 2006. Nichols used that gun to kill the judge presiding over Nichols? rape trial. After shooting Judge Rowland Barnes, Nichols shot and killed the court reporter, Julie Ann Brandau. As he fled the courthouse Nichols killed Sgt. Hoyt Teasley; later that day he also fatally shot U.S. Customs agent David Wilhelm. Nichols surrendered to authorities the next day following a massive manhunt.

An independent review found that each of the officers who were fired had either failed to perform their jobs or lied during the investigation.
Because an officer?s honesty is critical if they have to testify in court cases, lying is a fireable offense by most law enforcement agencies.
The county?s personnel board, however, apparently had no regard for such ethical issues. At least three of the sheriff?s employees who were rehired had appealed to that board. In August 2006, Freeman agreed to the county attorney?s reinstatement of Deputy Paul Tamer, who agreed to resign after being rehired. Tamer received three months? back pay and benefits, and retained his state law-enforcement certification. He had been in charge of monitoring the courthouse surveillance cameras.

Major Whitehead, the former head over courthouse security, and Captain Lee were also reinstated and allowed to retire with full benefits. While six of the fired officers were rehired, they also face liability in lawsuits filed against the county by victims of Nichols? shooting rampage.

Meanwhile, Nichols faces the death penalty in a 54-count indictment resulting from his deadly escape; he went on trial at the Fulton County Courthouse Complex on January 11, 2007. ?I refuse to say it?s going to be business as normal,? said Sheriff?s Major Antonio Johnson. ?I can tell you the courtroom will be secure, the courthouse will be secure and the perimeter will be secure.?

The Fulton county jail has long been a cesspool of squalid conditions and human rights abuses, the shootings only publicly illustrated the callous and incompetent operations of the jail.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jacksonville Times-Union, AP, Cox News Service,

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