Response by Ga. sheriff angers family of killed recruit


Copyright 2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

The parents of a Kennesaw police recruit killed by an instructor during firearms training said Wednesday they are frustrated and angry that the veteran officer responsible was neither charged with a crime nor fired.

In a written statement, the father of police recruit Tara Drummond called for a "higher level review" of the Sept. 13 shooting during a class at the North Central Georgia Law Enforcement Academy in Austell.

On March 2, a Cobb County grand jury considered charges of reckless conduct and involuntary manslaughter against Cobb Sheriff's Sgt. Al Jackson, but it declined to indict him. On Monday, Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren announced that Jackson would be demoted to the rank of deputy and suspended for 30 days without pay.

"The family was confused and somewhat distraught regarding the lack of action by the Cobb County grand jury a couple of weeks ago when this matter was reviewed and considered for indictments," Brian Drummond, Tara's father said in a statement e-mailed to the newspaper. "The choices made in this case, to employ the prohibited practice of using functioning firearms in training exercises . . . clearly constituted negligence."

Reached Wednesday by phone, Tara Drummond's mother, Tina Drummond, acknowledged that they sent the e-mail but declined further comment except to say, "We're just trying to move on from here."

Jackson's attorney, Lance LoRusso, did not return phone calls.

The decision not to fire Jackson was "one of the hardest" of his 30 years in law enforcement, Warren said.

Jackson, a 26-year employee of the Cobb Sheriff's Office who Warren said has only two "minor" discipline actions during his time on the job, will serve a one-month unpaid suspension and be demoted to the rank of entry-level deputy.

Jackson's personnel record had two infractions. In January 1991, he was cited for leaving his service revolver on a counter of the intake area of the women's jail. He was suspended for one day. In January 1990, he was reprimanded in an incident in which an inmate escaped.

The sheriff's administrative report on the shooting was released nearly six months after the shooting. It said that Jackson fired a single round during a drill in which recruits faced each other, drew their weapons, pulled the trigger, ejected the magazine, reloaded and pulled the trigger a second time, according to the sheriff's report.

Jackson took the place of the recruit facing Drummond to demonstrate the procedure, the report states. Jackson's semiautomatic pistol fired a live round when reloaded with the second magazine, striking Drummond in the chest, investigators reported.

Jackson must pass a fitness-for-duty evaluation before he can return to duty after his suspension ends April 20, Warren said. Also, Jackson can never again teach classes at the Sheriff's Office, the North Central Georgia Law Enforcement Academy or any other police academy while employed by Cobb County, Warren said.

A similar incident happened in Clayton County in 1986, when a deputy loaded his gun with live ammunition before shooting a sheriff's lieutenant to death during a training exercise.

Deputy William T. Cassells, then 34, told investigators he thought his .38-caliber revolver was loaded with blanks. No charges were filed against Cassells, who is now Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill's chief deputy.

Warren said he spoke with Drummond's family in his office about his decision before announcing it publicly.

Asked the family's reaction during the meeting, Warren said: "How could they understand it? It's something I don't think I could understand if it was a member of my family, but I have a responsibility to the people of Cobb County, and I think I made the right decision given the circumstances." 
March 23, 2006

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