Atlanta Courthouse Murders: Widow Sues over Camera Monitoring, Guard Staffing

ATLANTA (AP) - The wife of the Fulton County judge shot to death in his courtroom March 11 has filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Myron Freeman and other members of his staff.

The wrongful death suit, filed Wednesday on behalf of Claudia Barnes, singles out eight sheriff's employees accused of violating department policies and failing to protect her husband, Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes.

Rape suspect Brian Nichols is charged with killing Barnes, the judge in his trial at the time, court reporter Julie Ann Brandau and Sgt. Hoyt Teasley. He's also accused of shooting and killing federal agent David Wilhelm in Buckhead later that day.

Former deputy Sgt. Jerome Dowdell, who lost an appeal to get his job back this week, is among those named in the suit.

Dowdell wasn't on duty the day of the shootings, but Nichols' mother, who attends the same church as Dowdell, had warned the sergeant weeks earlier that her son might try to overpower a deputy and get a gun.

Dowdell said higher-ups ignored his warning.

Nichols remains in jail awaiting his death penalty trial.

Fulton County Sheriff's spokeswoman Nikita Adams-Hightower said Freeman, who called his deputies' response to the shootings "exemplary," shortly afterward "doesn't have any comment on that at this time."

The lawsuit is expected to seek millions, although an amount was not mentioned in the suit.

"One of the overriding concerns I have is that the best of society and the worst of society come into intimate contact with each other in the courthouse," said Barnes' lead attorney, Tommy Malone. "It is the clear duty of the sheriff and his deputies to protect the members of the public from predictable violence to be expected of prisoners."

The suit alleges that deputies failed to properly monitor cameras in the Fulton County Courthouse or investigate an incident in which metal devices were found on Nichols two days before the shootings.

It also claims they did not have the proper number of deputies guarding Nichols, a former college football player and martial artist.

Nichols is accused of overpowering Deputy Cynthia Hall, 51, and stealing her gun.

Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

(c) 2005 Associated Press