Monday, April 18, 2005


Atlanta Courthouse Murders - Taskforce Criticized

Link Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman has drawn criticism for his courthouse security task force, as critics have questioned his selection of panel members and the way it is organized.

The sheriff's 22-member group is supposed to start meeting in secret this week, but some members didn't know when or where. Only eight members of the panel are current or former law enforcement professionals.


Atlanta Courthouse Murders - Recall Sheriff

Link A group of officers, both line and managerial, have contacted an Atlanta attorney for potential whistleblower protections and have started a website demanding the resignation or recall if necessary of Sheriff Myron Freeman. If you are eligible to sign the petition, please do so. It requires 90,000 signatures to trigger the recall.

Recall Freeman

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Atlanta Courthouse Murders - Time line of Events to 910 am

Link The Associated Press -

The following is a timeline of the chain of events inside the Fulton County Courthouse on March 11 when rape defendant Brian Nichols allegedly stole a deputy's gun and started a shooting rampage, according to a Sheriff's Department report. The timeline does not cover events once Nichols left the immediate area of the courthouse. A federal agent was killed hours later north of downtown, allegedly by Nichols.

8:49 a.m. _ Deputy Cynthia Hall escorts Brian Nichols from elevator number 12 to holding cell in detention 8 A/B at Fulton County Justice Center, 185 Central Ave.

8:49 a.m. _ Hall is struck by Nichols in entrance to cell 8E2 after he enters holding cell and forces Hall into cell 8E1.

8:52 a.m. _ Nichols comes out of cell 8E1 where Hall is located and closes door.

8:54 a.m. _ Nichols comes out of cell 8E2 in civilian clothes and proceeds to 135 Pryor St. courthouse via pedestrian bridge.

8:56 a.m. _ Nichols enters Judge Rowland Barnes' unlocked chambers and accosts his staff and attorney David Allman, handcuffs them and takes them hostage at gunpoint.

8:57 a.m. _ Sgt. Grantley White enters the chambers area where he is confronted by Nichols who has Hall's gun and forces White to surrender his weapon.

8:58 a.m. _ White feigns a heart attack so that he can fall near an alarm which he depresses; White is locked in the bathroom by Nichols.

8:58 a.m. _ Central Control receives duress alarm activation in Barnes' chambers.

8:58 a.m. _ Sgt. Hoyt Teasley heads towards Barnes' chambers.

8:58 a.m. _ First attempt to contact White; White does not respond to radio call.

8:58 a.m. _ Second attempt to raise White; No answer to radio call.

8:58 a.m. _ Third call to White.

8:58 a.m. _ Central receives "00" from White's radio.

8:58 a.m. _ "White" (radio used by Nichols) was advised by Central Control "Signal 00" (welfare check).

8:59 a.m. _ White is handcuffed and forced into chambers' bathroom.

8:59 a.m. _ No response to radio check to White.

8:59 a.m. _ Nichols enters courtroom through unlocked access door and allegedly shoots Barnes and court reporter Julie Brandau.

8:59 a.m. _ Code 000 was broadcast to all court services personnel.

8:59 a.m. _ Multiple court personnel, including Teasley and Sgt. John Starks, in route to call.

8:59 a.m. _ Duress alarm received from "Family Services room 836".

8:59 a.m. _ Sgt. Vincent Owens diverted to Family Services alarm.

8:59 a.m. _ White escapes from bathroom, goes to the courtroom and discovers Barnes and Brandau and immediately radios "Code 00 judge shot."

8:59 a.m. _ Emergency signal "00 officer needs assistance" was broadcast.

8:59 a.m. _ Radio contacted on "courts channel" but does not reply.

8:59 a.m. _ Radio contacted on "Sheriff Patrol" and advised to respond to signal 00 (ambulance) to the courthouse in response to a "judge shot on the bench." Radio confirms needing "a 00 to the courthouse in reference to a code 00 (person shot).

9 a.m. _ Emergency medical assistance responds to 136 Pryor St. courtroom 8H.

9 a.m. _ Teasley observes Nichols run into stairwell on 8th floor and gives chase.

9:01 a.m. _ Stairwell C exit door alarm activated; Stairwell C exit door closes.

9:01 a.m. _ Barnes examined and was found to have no signs of life; Brandau examined and was found to have no signs of life.

9:02 a.m. _ Barnes and Brandau pronounced dead; Sgt. Jarvis Williams secures crime scene and limits access to courtroom.

9:02 a.m. _ Teasley discovered with fatal wounds.

9:06 a.m. _ Deputies arrive and enter 8B detention area.

9:10 a.m. _ Deputy Harold Moore locates Hall inside of 8 A/B detention cell.


Times are approximate; Radio signals changed for security.


Atlanta Courthouse Murders - Taskforce to be Named

Link Sheriff Myron Freeman is ready to announce a task force to look into security problems at the Fulton County Courthouse, one month after the fatal shootings there.

Freeman has been criticized for taking so long to name a task force after the shootings that began at the courthouse March eleventh and left four dead. But he says it's taken a month for some of the agencies to commit -- including the U-S Marshals Office and the National Sheriff's Association. He also says he would like representatives from Fulton County judges and commissioners to also participate.

The task force will look at the department's courthouse security policies. Fulton County judges have authorized their own outside experts to look at security as well.

Friday, April 08, 2005


Atlanta Courthouse Murders - Sheriff Ducks on Key Issues

Link > Metro > Atlanta

Sheriff dodges fault in killings

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
> Published on: 04/08/05
Fulton County sheriff's officials admitted under questioning Thursday that they knew Judge Rowland Barnes' chambers were not secure before an escaped prisoner gunned him down in his own courtroom.

But Sheriff Myron Freeman, who is responsible for courthouse security, took little responsiblity for circumstances that led to the March 11 shooting spree that killed Barnes, his court reporter and a sheriff's deputy.

Brian Nichols is accused of overpowering the 51-year-old female deputy guarding him, taking her keys and gun and walking through the courthouse complex to Barnes' office, where he took several people hostage. He then entered the courtroom where he shot the judge and court reporter Julie Brandau, police said. Next, authorities said, Nichols bolted down eight flights of stairs to the street, where he killed Sgt. Hoyt Teasley, the only sheriff's deputy in pursuit of him at that point.

A summary and timeline attached to a three-inch-thick report mentions that the attack on the woman deputy was caught by a security camera, but no one was looking at the video screen at the time. The deputy who was taken hostage in the judge's chambers feigned a heart attack and managed to press a silent alarm, but no one responded until a deputy in the control room had called back three times to check on the condition of the downed officer.

In the intervening moments, the judge and the court reporter were shot.

In a letter summarizing the report on the incident, Sheriff Freeman said his department's response after the assault of the deputy guarding Nichols was "exemplary." But he avoided expressing any judgment on Sheriff's Department actions or procedures that might have led to the security breach in the first place.

"I think I was most struck by what was not here," Fulton County Commission Chairwoman Karen Handel said Thursday. "Clearly, there's a lack of accountability. For this report to convey that nothing went wrong on March 11 is troubling."

"Even to this day," she said, "the same people overseeing courthouse security then are overseeing courthouse security now — and that's disconcerting."

Some see little new

The sheriff has been reluctant to speak about the March 11 events, and at a news conference Thursday he again said little.

In some instances, he declined to respond directly to questions and stood to the side with his hands clasped. His chief deputy, Michael Cooke, would step in to answer.

Cooke acknowledged that Barnes' chambers were not secure and that was known well before March 11.

"We understand there was a practice of not locking that door," he said.

But that fact was not mentioned in the report, nor was anything that happened before Deputy Cynthia Hall was attacked at 8:49 that Friday morning.

Judge Hilton Fuller, who will preside over Nichols' trial on charges of killing the three people at the courthouse and a federal agent in Buckhead as the gunman eluded a massive manhunt, is to decide today whether to make the rest of the sheriff's report public. The report includes transcripts of interviews with witnesses, mostly sheriff's office employees.

Within hours of the courthouse shootings, Freeman promised an internal investigation of what went wrong.

Some court officials were reluctant to criticize Freeman and the findings of his office, stressing that they wanted to "cooperate."

"I don't think we have enough, yet, to know anything more than we already knew," Court Administrator Judith Cramer said.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Manis said, "Nothing in the report comes as a surprise. We're looking forward to the judges' independent study."

Fulton County judges are selecting outside experts to conduct an assessment of courthouse security.

Danny Porter, district attorney in Gwinnett County, where Nichols surrendered March 12, questioned why Freeman didn't scrutinize his own policies.

"It's pretty clear there were individual acts of courage and heroism, but if the sheriff says no policies were violated, then, given what I know about the case, they need to take a hard look at his policies," Porter said. "I think you have to look at what went wrong to know where your problems lie."

One practice that has been questioned repeatedly is allowing one deputy to be alone with a prisoner suspected of a violent felony.

Cooke said the department's policy allows one deputy to escort up to four prisoners at a time. He said Hall had escorted Nichols to the courtrom several times previously without incident. The report mentioned no changes to that policy.

Freeman had initially promised his report last Friday, but moved the deadline to Wednesday. Then the sheriff asked Judge Fuller whether it should be made public. Fuller sealed the report until he could review it. He kept the seal on the witness interviews, but released the summary Thursday.

"This office is not used to conducting criminal investigations," Freeman said, reading from a prepared statement. The county attorney's office helped conduct the inquiry. Its lawyers would be responsible for defending the county's actions against any lawsuits that might be brought.

"The courthouse is much safer today than it was March 11," Freeman said when asked what shortcomings his investigation found.

He conceded that the report did not single out any security failings.

The portions of the report released Thursday did give a glimpse of what occurred during the critical minutes at the courthouse that morning. Almost all of the details disclosed from the report had already been reported in the media in the days just after the slayings.

Narrative, not analysis

"This is a play-by-play narrative," said Robert Friedmann, a Georgia State University criminal justice professor and an expert on security. "This is not really what helps us understand what procedures were followed, what procedures were not followed and how an incident like this would be prevented in the future."

The report begins with 8:49 a.m., when Deputy Hall escorted Nichols to a holding cell so he could change from his jail jumpsuit into street clothes for his appearance in Judge Barnes' court, where he was being tried for allegedly raping his former girlfriend.

From there, the sheriff's office's report gives a minute-by-minute accounting, with the notation that the "times are approximate." The timeline ends with a beaten and unconscious Hall being discovered — 21 minutes later — lying on the floor in the holding cell where she had been overpowered.

The report does not note when or how the prisoner got Hall's weapon, though it does refer to his using it to force another deputy, Grantley White, to give up his weapon and to handcuff other hostages in the judge's office.

Sheriff's officials have said Nichols used Hall's keys to retrieve her weapon from a lockbox. Freeman said the lockboxes now require a combination rather than a key to open.

The report mentions that two days before the shootings, Nichols had been caught with pieces of metal in his shoes that could have been used as weapons.

But the sheriff's department took no action beyond writing a report because "Nichols had posed no serious threat and had exhibited no other signs which might lead to trouble."

Cooke and Freeman also noted that one deputy was assigned to watch 52 video screens showing scenes from around the courthouse. It was understandable, sheriff's officials said, that that deputy missed seeing Hall being shoved into an area not covered by the cameras.

"The assault we caught on camera was three- or four-tenths of a second" on the screen, Chief Deputy Cooke said. "Several individuals could have been in there watching those cameras and not captured it."

Yet, sheriff's officials said, the deputy on duty in the control room, Paul Tamer, responded quickly to distress alarms that soon followed. At 8:58 a.m., Tamer tried three times in one minute to raise White by radio, the report said. Meanwhile Teasley, who was outside the control room, left to investigate the alarm that came from Barnes' courtroom in an adjoining building, the report said. Tamer tried to raise White by radio a fourth time, still getting no response, according to the report.

Yet Cooke said, "There was no lapse in response time. Period."

The interviews still under seal by the judge were with 33 people, all but one of them employees of the sheriff's department.

Too shaken to talk

Freeman and Cooke said the court employees who were taken hostage in Barnes' office declined to be interviewed for their report. "There were a host of individuals that declined," Cooke said. "This is still very emotional for some."

Porter, the Gwinnett district attorney, responded with incredulity to the suggestion that sheriff's investigators could not get some court employees to talk to them because the sheriff lacked authority to subpoena them.

"That's just an excuse," Porter said. "I'm sure witnesses have talked to Atlanta police or investigators with the district attorney's office. The sheriff should be able to get access to those interviews."

Cramer said the court workers were on medical leave and some were undergoing "trauma counseling."

"They were worn out physically and emotionally and asked to not be made to come in," the court administrator said.

Freeman said he will name a task force on Monday, a month after the shooting, to do a security review. The sheriff said it has taken a month to put that group together because commitments from outside agencies was slow in coming.

"The bigger issues are accountability and where we go from here," Handel said. "And those two things are missing. I would like to see a greater urgency."

Thursday, April 07, 2005


Atlanta Courthouse Murders - Timeline Questions Unanswered

Link > Metro > Atlanta

Report gives time line of courthouse shootings

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
> Published on: 04/07/05
In a brief executive summary of a three-inch-thick report released this afternoon on what happened the day accused killer Brian Nichols grabbed a deputy's gun and killed three people at the Fulton County Courthouse, Sheriff Myron Freeman acknowledged that the events of March 11, 2005, "caused a great deal of concern and alarm."

Freeman says "exemplary efforts were made by our entire staff" during the crisis.

However, the time line included in the report indicates 21 minutes passed before Deputy Cynthia Hall was found unconscious in the holding cell where the shooting suspect allegedly beat her and took her gun. It also indicated no one responded to a distress call by another deputy in Judge Rowland Barnes' chambers until after three return calls were made to ascertain the cause of the alarm. While those callbacks were made, the gunman shot Barnes and his stenographer Julie Ann Brandau. Nichols then ran down eight flights of stairs, pursued by Sgt. Hoyt Teasley, the time line says. When Nichols reached the street, he turned and shot Teasley in the abdomen, killing him, the report said.

Freeman said Teasley's heroic pursuit "will long be remembered."

Freeman also outlined how Sgt. Grantley White, who was allegedly taken hostage in the judge's chamber by Nichols, feigned a heart attack and fell to the floor so he could trigger the silent distress signal without the gunman knowing. White "displayed extraordinary bravery and savvy as he sounded the first alarm."

Freeman, in the report, said the "security breach" has "forced us to take a fresh look at courthouse security and to begin the process of improving security for the courthouse staff, the public and our deputies."

He continued: "Any security breach is intolerable and we will work tirelessly to ensure that they are prevented. The events serve as a tragic reminder to our staff to be ever vigilant as we perform our duties."

In the report, Freeman does not outline any mistakes his staff might have made that day, but points out that "more than 300 prisoners are brought to the [courthouse] complex each day for hearings and trials."

Freeman said in the report that one deputy may escort up to four handcuffed prisoners. Deputy Hall was alone with Nichols in a holding area when she took off his handcuffs to allow him to change into civilian clothes for court, the report says.

Security cameras recorded Nichols overpowering her and pushing her into another cell where he "most likely, continued to brutally assault her," the report says.

Freeman continues: "Although Central Control [where cameras are monitored on 51 screens] was manned during these events, the brief image of Nichols striking Deputy Hall was not seen at the time."

The report does not say how many deputies were watching the monitors at the time, though Freeman has previously said there was one staffer there who also had other duties. The report also does not say how or when the suspect took Hall's gun, only that it was later used in the shootings.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Atlanta Courthouse Murders - Timeline from APD

Here is the timeline released by Atlanta police on the courthouse shooting response:

The department cites the sheriff's department and police reports as sources.

8:45 a.m. -- Fulton County Sheriff (Cynthia Ann) Hall was overpowered by suspect Brian Nichols while suspect changed clothes. Deputy's weapon was taken and she was assaulted.

8:55 a.m. -- Suspect enters courtroom 8-F where he shoots Judge Rowland Barnes and court reporter Julie Brandau. Suspect leaves courtroom.

9:05 a.m.-- APD (Atlanta Police Department) communications receives a cell phone call from a citizen at Pryor and Alabama (streets) that an officer was down. An APD homicide investigator was on already at the scene for an appointment in court and was searching for a parking space. The same homicide investigator takes control at the crime scene.

Suspect Nichols carjacks green Mazda Tribute and (it is) reported stolen.

9:06 a.m. -- The first dispatched Zone 5 officer arrives on the scene and calls into APD radio that an officer needed help.

9:07 a.m. -- Suspect carjacks an A-Tow wrecker truck in the vicinity of the Fulton County Courthouse.

9:10 a.m.-- Green Mazda that was reported stolen at 9:05 is recovered.

9:11 a.m.-- APD called MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) operator about the incident. Atlanta Fire Rescue is dispatched.

9:13 a.m. Grady EMS arrives on the scene.

9:14 a.m.-- Suspect carjacks victim in silver Mercury Sable.

9:15 a.m.-- Atlanta Police Command staff were notified at APD communications that a Fulton County deputy was shot. Atlanta Fire Rescue arrives on the scene.

9:16 a.m. -- Suspect carjacks a blue Isuzu Trooper.

9:19 a.m.-- Tow truck carjacked at 9:07 was discovered.

9:20 a.m.-- Suspect assaults AJC (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) reporter and carjacks his green Honda.

9:21 a.m. -- The blue Isuzu Troop carjacked at 9:16 a.m. was located. APD communications contacted MARTA police with additional information on suspect. Atlanta Fire Department notified its dispatch that two individuals were dead; they contacted the medial examiner.

9:22 a.m. -- Atlanta Fire Rescue advises dispatch that a third victim was injured at the courthouse.

9:30 a.m.-- Assistant Chief of Police (Alan J.) Dreher arrives at the scene to assess the situation.

9:36 a.m.-- Special Operations Section lieutenant notified APD communications that a deputy and others were injured.

9:38 a.m. -- SOS lieutenant notifies APD communications that the judge and court reporter are shot.

9:40 a.m. -- APD command staff are notified by APD communications that judge and court reporter are shot. Atlanta Fire Rescue exterior command post was set up at Pryor and MLK (Martin Luther King) Drive.

9:41 a.m.-- Atlanta Fire Rescue calls additional equipment to the scene.

9:45 a.m.-- APD takes command of the scene at this point on the streets, coordinating the investigative efforts of the assisting agencies: (FBI, U.S. Marshals, ATF, GBI, Fulton County Sheriff's Office, Fulton County police department and Fulton County marshals.) Photo of suspect Brian Nichols was circulated.

9:48 a.m. -- Atlanta fire chief arrives on the scene.

9:50 a.m. -- Briefing room was staged on the ninth floor of the Fulton County building. APD coordinated assignments for supporting law enforcement agencies. Atlanta Fire Rescue establishes an interior command as a medical command center, is notified that four people were shot, two fatally.

9:55 a.m. -- An Atlanta Fire Department medical doctor was en route to the scene.

10:25 a.m. -- APD set up mobile command vehicle at MLK and Pryor primarily for traffic control during the investigation.

10:30 a.m. -- APD and participating agencies relocated the command center to the Emergency Operation Center

Friday, March 18, 2005


Atlanta Courthouse Murders - Breakfast at Zero Hour

WSB-Radio reported this evening that the video camera feed into the control room at the FUCO Courthouse was not being monitored during the critical time that Nichols overpowered Deputy Hall; because, the officers in that room had been asked by their supervisor to GO GET HIM SOME BREAKFAST. Remember, I said it was indifference and complacency that was a large factor in this security breach. Even I didn't realize it was that bad. Incredible.




This would be a laughable paraphrase, if it wasn't such a tragic situation:

While acknowledging missteps in the pursuit of Nichols, Pennington said during a lengthy interview with The Associated Press following the news conference that Nichols was able to elude capture for so long because of his inconspicuous behavior(emph mine).

And what about this mea culpa from the Mayor of Atlanta:

"We have nothing to hide," Franklin said. "We come to you as a city ... recognizing that there are opportunities for improvements."

Translation... Boo-hoo-hoo. We're just a major metropolitan city that doesn't have its act together, cut us some slack. UMMM, I don't think so...


Atlanta Courthouse Murders - Misdirection: Police One Way Suspect the Other

Link The AJC, reporting on a presser with Atlanta Police Chief Pennington, reports that the police acknowledge that mistakes were made. Indeed, police converged on the courthouse, as the killer had already fled the area. They still give no reason why the garage where the Honda was later found was not searched. They do claim that MARTA was notified, but given the extra MARTA security for the tournament, it seems that notification was worthless. This guy was only wearing a jacket and no shirt, so why didn't he attract any attention? MARTA claims they were searching for a Honda, too, but MARTA could not have searched for any car except in parking lots and the stations downtown essentially have no lots that are patrolled by MARTA. So what were they searching for - a car.. on the rail tracks? The story put forth by officials so far seems to be a semi-plausible attempt to paper over the most obvious problems in the search, but the explanations only raise more questions.

Officials say he was wandering the streets around the mall, and that they don't believe that he entered the mall. So why was he not noticed by any pedestrians on busy Buckhead streets, who by then probably knew of the search from media reports, or by police on patrol for that matter? The red herring of the green Honda apparently shut the eyes of patrol officers to sidewalks. Lenox Mall has security cameras, so they should be able to make a definitive statement that he did not enter the mall. They gave themselves some wiggle room.

Every explanation put forth by authorities so far seems to try to protect the integrity of establishments that are vital to Atlanta's business and tourist industries. The responses seem to be geared toward trying to placate citizens and tourists that are coming to Atlanta that using MARTA or visiting our malls is safe. Do you think the people who traveled MARTA that morning feel better? Or the shoppers at the mall?

I repeat, I don't go downtown or even to Buckhead unless I absolutely have to...I have that belief, and many people I know do too, and that belief makes the movers and shakers worry.

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