Sheriff’s Capt. Chelisa Lee, facing dismissal for alleged security failings, said Friday that she is nothing like the person depicted in an investigator’s report on the deadly March 11 shootings at the Fulton County Courthouse.
A scathing report released last week blamed Lee and other sherriff’s deputies for lax security that allowed a gunman to kill Judge Rowland Barnes, a court reporter and a deputy that day. A commission investigationg the shootings found that Lee lied to investigators and did nothing in response to warnings that the alleged gunman, Brian Nichols, might turn violent. “I didn’t lie,” Lee said in an interview at her lawyer’s Snellville office. “I have not lied. I did my job. I’ve never not done my job. However you paint me, I am a woman of integrity.”
Lee, an 18-year veteran who was the captain of courtroom security, denied allegations in the report that she routinely sent subordinates out to fetch her breakfast and perform other errands. She also denied a co-worker’s claim that she once was seen watching the movie “CAtwoman” on a personal DVD player while on duty.
Lee said Sheriff Myron Freeman notified her this week that he intended to fire her because of findings in the commission’s report. After meeting with Lee and her lawyer, Mike Puglise, on Wednesday, Freeman postponed a final decision until another meeting, set for next week.
Puglise said Lee wants to keep her job and her rank as captain. Anything less, he said, would be unacceptable.
“This captain did her job,” Puglise said.
The commission found that sheriff’s deputies ignored specific warnings that Nichols was dangerous, failed to monitor a dentention area where the shooting suspect allegedly broke free, and lied to investigators looking into the security breaches. Investigators said they found a pattern of incompetence, absenteeism,
lax security and failed leadership in the Sheriff’s Department.
The report faulted Lee and 11 other sheriff’s employees for their performance.
“We aren’t the bunch of bumbling cops they are portraying us to be,” Lee said Friday.
She choked up whenever she spoke about the incidents of March 11. “To see every fear you’ve had come to pass, to see them put one of your people, who you know is dead, in an ambulance…” she said as tears welled up.
U.S. Marshal Richard Mecum, who is chairman of the commission, and deputy Sgt. Nikita Adams – Hightower, speaking for Freeman, defended the work of the internal affairs investigators and the integrity of their report.
“The report speaks for itself, and what the investigators saw, what the investigators believed,” Mecum said. “They’re top-notch…people. They did a lot of hard work.”
Lee disputed the investigators’ claim that she ended an interview abruptly, “stating that the investigators could write what they wanted … because she was no longer going to participate.”
Those were “not my words,” Lee said Friday. “I had told them everything I could possibly tell. I politely asked if they were finished.”
The commission noted allegations that Lee had sent employees on personal errands when they were on duty. On March 11, it said , she sent Alphonso Wright, a security specialist, to get her breakfast when he was supposed to be monitoring security cameras and radio traffic.
Lee, 39, said “it was not a practice” for her to send employees out for food. She said Wright was taking his regular morning break and that she simply asked him to get her an egg sandwich while he was getting breakfast for himself.
According to the commission’s report, Lee also told investigators she did not know about warnings that Nichols might become violent. But she said Friday that, at the time of the shootings, she was trying to assign two more deputies to Barnes’ courtroom because of her concern that two pieces of metal, possibly weapons, had been found in Nichol’s shoes tow days earlier.
Lee insisted that she was fully aware of security weaknesses at the courthouse, and she siad she had complained to her supervisor for a more than a year.
She said some judges demanded more deputies than they needed for their courtrooms and went over her head when she did not comply. “I was totally circumvented,” she said.
Lee said the commission’s investigators were hostile when they questioned her. “I was never interviewed. I was definitely interrogated,” she said.
The investigators, she said, did not understand the emotional trauma she and other courthouse deputies still feel. “They have not walked the hell,” she said. “I did.”