The Deadly Moment: Lessons learned in one of the nation's deadliest prisoner escapes


After his deadly rampage and escape and an extensive manhunt, Brian Nichols surrendered to police on March 12. Nichols is accused of killing a judge and three other people in Atlanta. Law enforcement officers can learn a great deal from the events that led to Nichols' escape and his subsequent apprehension.

By addressing the issues and tactics that courtroom officials and CERT operators can take to minimize known or unknown security deficiencies, this article proposes immediate steps your agency can take to help prevent this type of incident from happening again.

No Monday Morning Quarterbacking
At every point in this timeline, the tragedies could have been prevented-or at least minimized. While in hindsight it doesn't help to point fingers or identify a scapegoat (let's leave that up to the general media feeding frenzy: They don't understand the challenges law enforcement officers face every day). But in our own community, we can derive several lessons from this tragedy. Any day, like the Fulton County Sheriff's Office, your agency could face a similar emergency situation. So you have to be ready.

Challenging Assumptions and Tackling Thorny Issues
The Nichols incident should force your agency to challenge your policies and procedures regarding prisoner transportation and courtroom security. The fact is, over time we get complacent operating according to "SOP." While comforting in its routine, rigid adherence to SOP can dull our senses and reduce our ability to see-and solve-weak links in the chain of custody.

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