In Atlanta, Continued Fallout from Courthouse Shootings

ATLANTA (AP) - A sheriff's decision to fire eight deputies over the March courthouse shootings that led to the deaths of a judge and three others isn't sitting well with those who lost their jobs.

One of the deputies and a lawyer for a second said Sheriff Myron Freeman's actions were unjustified and the firings were done with little explanation.

The decision follows an independent panel's report released last month that was critical of the department's response before, during and after rape defendant Brian Nichols allegedly shot and killed the judge presiding over his trial at the Fulton County Courthouse, a court reporter, sheriff's deputy and later a federal agent on March 11.

Security has been tightened at the courthouse since the shootings, and several investigations and security reviews have been launched.

The firings, announced Friday, went into effect Monday.

"I was shocked," said Maj. Lucious Johnson, the head of the jail division and one of the fired deputies. "The only thing the sheriff did was he invited me into his office, extended his hand, smiled and told me I was fired."

Johnson was accused of not responding properly after metal shanks were found in Nichols' shoes two days before the shootings. But Johnson, in an interview Monday, said Freeman had never complained about his work before and did not fully explain why he was being fired.

"That's what baffled me," said Johnson, who worked at the sheriff's department for 10 months. "Crazy things happen in this world."

Johnson said he was told that because he was considered an unclassified employee due to his administrative rank, he can't appeal the sheriff's decision.

A lawyer planned to appeal the firing of another deputy, Capt. Chelesa Lee, an 18-year law enforcement veteran who was accused of ordering a subordinate responsible for monitoring the courthouse security cameras to get her breakfast around the time of the shootings.

Attorney Michael Puglise has said Lee only asked the employee to get her breakfast on the deputy's way back from his break, and that there was still another deputy monitoring the cameras at the time.

Puglise said Monday he believes the firings are an attempt by Freeman to "divert the public's attention from his own incompetence. "I would expect this is going to backlash on him," the attorney said.

A spokeswoman for Freeman declined to comment on the firings Monday. She also declined to release the names of all the deputies who were fired.

In addition to the eight firings, two other deputies were suspended. Three more deputies received lesser punishments.

Two of the other deputies who were fired were identified by union spokesman Charles Rambo as Maj. Orlando Whitehead, who was in command of courthouse security, and Sgt. Jerome Dowdell. There was no answer Monday at a telephone listing for Whitehead, and Dowdell declined to comment when reached at his home in Jonesboro.

"My attorney and I will address the media at some time real soon," Dowdell said.

Rambo said he was still trying Monday to find out the status of Deputy Paul Tamer and Lt. Twantta Mathis, two other sheriff's employees who received letters last month stating they might be fired. Telephone listings for Tamer and Mathis could not be found.

For Johnson, meanwhile, the firing was especially difficult in light of his lengthy career in the law enforcement community. He served stateside as a military policeman during the Vietnam War and worked in corrections for the federal prison system for 26 years.

"I don't think it was justified," Johnson said.