Sheriff Declines to Comment on Report

ATLANTA —

Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman, under fire in some quarters for his response to the shootings at the courthouse, has indicated that he plans to take action against several deputies.Freeman has sent letters to at least five deputies that announce his intention to fire, suspend or demote them for security lapses that led up to the killings.

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Sgt. Charles Rambo, the national vice president of the union that represents sheriff’s deputies, told reporters that as many as 15 deputies received the letters this week.

Capt. Chelisa Lee, a security supervisor who allegedly ordered a guard assigned to watch video cameras at the courthouse to go get her breakfast, was slated to be terminated along with Deputy Paul Tamer, who was assigned to the control room. Rambo identified two other deputies who received termination letters as Sgt. Jerome Dowdell and Lt. Twantta Mathis. They could not immediately be reached for comment.

A panel that has been analyzing the events on the day of the shootings named 12 Fulton deputies who allegedly violated department protocol. Rambo said other non-unionized deputies could have received letters, too.

Rambo’s union represents about 300 Fulton County sheriff’s deputies and jail officers. The department has 500 to 600 sworn deputies, 300 jail officers and a handful of security specialists, he said.

Fulton officials have not commented on the report, saying the sheriff plans to talk publicly about his actions after he has met with the deputies who are the subject of the job action.

The shooting suspect, Brian Nichols, was due to appear in court Tuesday in connection with the case but failed to appear because he was bitten by a spider in his jail cell, his lawyers said.

Nichols was being retried on March 11 on rape charges when he allegedly stole a deputy’s handgun at the Fulton County Courthouse after the deputy removed his handcuffs to allow him to change out of his jail clothes and prepare for court.

Authorities say Nichols fatally shot a judge, court reporter and sheriff’s deputy. He’s accused of killing a federal agent north of downtown before surrendering the next day in Gwinnett County.

Lee has been accused of ordering a subordinate responsible for monitoring the courthouse security cameras to get her breakfast around the time of the shootings.

But Lee’s attorney, Michael Puglise, said Wednesday that Lee only asked the employee to get her breakfast on the deputy’s way back from his break, which he was entitled to take. Puglise also noted that there was still another deputy monitoring the cameras at the time.

“I don’t feel she should be fired,” Puglise said after attending a meeting earlier in the day with his client and the sheriff.

He said Lee, an 18-year veteran of the department, presented her case at the meeting and answered all questions truthfully. Puglise said Freeman seemed to be keeping an open mind about whether to follow through with the firings.

A report released last week by an independent panel reviewing the shootings said Dowdell got a phone call from his pastor that seemed to foreshadow the shooting rampage.

Shiloh Baptist Church pastor Otis White called Dowdell in late February with a warning that Nichols had told his mother he would overpower a deputy and take the officer’s weapon if a trial verdict didn’t go his way.

The report said Dowdell failed to urge Nichols to realize the consequences of his threats and did not alert proper authorities about the warning.

The panel also concluded that Tamer shirked his duties when he left a bank of security cameras unmanned the morning of the shootings and did not respond to alarms in the slain judge’s chambers or a nearby courtroom.

Rambo said the accusations against the deputies could range from lapses in security to failure to communicate critical information.

Rambo was critical of the decision to fire the four deputies. He said that if anyone should be disciplined, it should be Freeman, who runs the department.

“His initial report that he put out about the shootings was filled with so many inconsistencies and so many credibility issues that this is what the task force basically worked itself around,” Rambo said.

wsbtv.com Staff Writer Alfred Charles contributed to this report.

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