Guest: Courtney Anderson, Donald Schweitzer, Larry Pozner, Felicia Humphries, Renee Rockwell, Candice DeLong, Bo Dietl, Catherine Crier, John Timoney, Dennis Scheib
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Manhunt in middle America. You are looking at a live picture over Atlanta, Georgia, where a massive manhunt is under way for the man who gunned down a beloved judge, a devoted deputy, and a 43-year-old mother at the city‘s courthouse.
Welcome to this special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY: “Manhunt in Middle America.”
Courthouse chaos in Atlanta, Georgia, this morning.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody off the sidewalk.
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SCARBOROUGH: A 33-year-old rape suspect, Brian Nichols, has his handcuffs taken off minutes before he overpowers a lone guard. Soon, hell breaks loose.
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DEPUTY SHERIFF ALAN DREHER, ATLANTA POLICE: He overwhelmed the deputy sheriff on his way to court. And it appears that he took possession of her handgun.
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SCARBOROUGH: After gunning down the female deputy, the rape suspect grabs hostages, bolts into the courtroom and murders two people, respected Judge Rowland Barnes and his court reporter. As the suspect races away from the courthouse, a brave young deputy gives chase, before Brian Nichols kills him in a hail of gunfire.
Nichols then pistol-whips a bystander before stealing his car.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard this noise like, help me, help me. So I ran into the garage and she told me that somebody like point a gun on her and carjack her.
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SCARBOROUGH: Tonight, a massive manhunt spreads across north Georgia, as hundreds of law enforcement officers from scores of federal, state and local agencies hunt down Nichols before he kills again.
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DREHER: We‘re not going to rest until we have him in custody.
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SCARBOROUGH: Welcome to this special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. the search continues at this hour, just a little under 13 hours after Atlanta went into lockdown.
We‘re covering this story from all angles tonight. We have Don Teague in Atlanta, Dennis Scheib, an eyewitness to the crime. We also have Court TV‘s Catherine Crier, former New York City cop Bo Dietl and Miami Police Chief John Timoney and many more.
And we‘re going to start by getting an update from NBC‘s Don Teague. He has been covering this story all day. And he‘s with us tonight from Atlanta.
What‘s the latest, Don?
DON TEAGUE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, good evening, Joe.
As you mentioned, it has been just over 13 hours since all of this happened here at the Atlanta courthouse this morning. The police chief of Atlanta just finished a press conference a few minutes ago. Unfortunately, really no new news to report, no sightings of the suspect. They say they are continuing to look for the suspect. They will have a command center operating 24 hours a day. They have officers working on 12-hour shifts.
They want to assure the public that they are doing everything possible to bring this man into custody. But the bad news really is that they don‘t know where he is right now. And they know he is armed and dangerous—
SCARBOROUGH: Don, 13 hours after this attack, is it still in lockdown mode in downtown Atlanta?
TEAGUE: Well, it‘s really not. Most of the city has returned to normal, or at least as normal as you could expect it to be after what happened today.
You know, part of the key to this is that this man could be hundreds of miles away, potentially. Now, authorities say they haven‘t seen his car. They have had no sightings of the car that he is supposed to be in. So, they really don‘t know which direction even to look.
And downtown Atlanta, if you‘re familiar with it, is at a crossroads of three major interstates. He could go north, south, east or west. He could be hundreds of miles away. And traffic was very light at the time this happened this morning. So, if he managed to get on a freeway and start driving at 70 miles per hour, he could be quite a distance from here now—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Do the police have any leads at all? Certainly, we were showing video of phone numbers that people can call and all the interstates around Atlanta. Any leads at all? Any sightings of this? What is it, it‘s a green Honda?
TEAGUE: Ninety-seven Honda Accord. But they say it is possible that he has taken another vehicle since then, although they have no reports of other carjackings anywhere in the area.
The point on the phone calls, they say, yes, they have had some phone calls from people calling the tip line. Nothing has panned out. And the police chief said, honestly, he is surprised by that, because they would have expected to have had some legitimate sightings of him by now. And they just haven‘t.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Don Teague in Atlanta, thanks a lot. We appreciate it. And Don will be back with the updates throughout this hour.
Now, this guy Brian Nichols was supposed to be more heavily guarded today, because, yesterday, he was caught trying to bring in two homemade knives into the courthouse. But he was alone with one guard.
Lisa Daniels is at MSNBC headquarters. She‘s going to take us through what happened this morning. Give us the rundown.
LISA DANIELS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: All right, Joe. Here is what it is.
The reason that Nichols was in the courthouse in the first place was because he was being retried for rape for an incident that happened back in the summer of 2004. Now, from what we know, this is how today‘s events went down. Nichols was being escorted through the courthouse from a courthouse detention center to the courtroom, where that rape trial was set to begin for the day.
Nichols reportedly overpowers what we believe to be one female guard who was escorting him. And, Joe, we‘ve got to point out that has not been verified by the sheriff‘s office. But it sounds like, from accounts, he was being escorted by one female guard. Now, what happens next, Nichols apparently steals the deputy‘s gun and, bang, shoots her in the head. Apparently, Nichols then bursts into the courtroom, holds up about a dozen people at bay, and then reportedly shoots Judge Rowland Barnes and his beloved court reporter. Both are shot dead.
The time, about 9:10 a.m. in Atlanta. Now, according to eyewitnesses, Nichols then runs down eight flights of steps and out of the courthouse. That‘s where he encounters another sheriff‘s deputy. Nichols apparently shoots that deputy, who later dies at the hospital. Next, Nichols apparently flees into this parking garage, beats up a reporter from “The Atlanta Constitutional Journal,” who later tells the press about his ordeal.
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DON O‘BRIANT, “THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION”: And he said, give me your keys or I‘ll key you. I give him the keys. He opens the trunk. He said, get in the trunk. And I said, no.
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DANIELS: All right. Then Nichols apparently steals reporter‘s Don O‘Briant‘s green Honda.
And, Joe, that is all we know right now. As far as we know, Nichols has not been seen since. And tonight, the assistant DA who was trying the case is in hiding. Authorities worry tonight that she may have been Nichols‘ next target.
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QUESTION: I hate to ask it like this, but do you think he was looking for you when he went inside the courtroom?
GAYLE ABRAMSON, FULTON COUNTY ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I don‘t know. Again, I think this was a random act. I do think that....
QUESTION: It wasn‘t random, because he went back to the courtroom.
He could have just escaped. He made a trip to the courtroom.
ABRAMSON: That‘s true.
I do think that, in his mind, he knew he was going to be convicted this time. And, so, I think that he was just seeking revenge to the criminal justice system in general.
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DANIELS: So, Joe, that‘s basically what we can piece together right now. Some of that is from witnesses. Others are just from reports that have been unconfirmed right now.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Lisa. And just to follow up on what you said about the one lone female deputy that was escorting him, again, no confirmation from the law enforcement agencies.
But “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution” just put up on their Web site 20 minutes ago that Fulton Sheriff Sergeant Mike Thompson (ph) and other officials are telling reporters that Nichols took the gun from Deputy Cynthia Hall, who was alone with the 6‘1“ Nichols. She had just unhandcuffed him to change him out of his jail uniform and street clothes, and then the struggle ensued.
And, you know, I‘m sitting here wondering how in the world these law enforcement agencies and the courthouse officials knew—they knew this guy had tried smuggling in knives to the courtroom earlier in the week. And, yet, they leave him alone, a 6‘1“ man with a lone female deputy, who he is able to quickly overpower and, I‘ll tell you what, turn this entire courthouse into a scene of chaos.
Hey, Lisa, thanks a lot.
Now, all the judges in the courthouse remained locked in their chambers during the siege. You are looking right now at a shot over Atlanta, Georgia. Again, anybody that knows Atlanta, Georgia, knows that during the ‘70s and ‘80s and ‘90s, they spent about 25, 30 years putting together—it‘s kind of like the South‘s version of Boston‘s Big Dig—putting together roads that would allow several interstates, three interstates, to go through the middle of that city.
That‘s why police officers tonight really don‘t know which direction he could have gone in. He could have gone east or west on 20, Interstate 20. He could have gone north or south on I-75 or I-85, literally could be in five, six, seven different states right now. And that‘s causing police officers such a difficult, difficult time.
You know, we have got tonight with us, we have got criminal defense attorney Dennis Scheib. He was on the eighth floor of the courthouse and he joins us now.
Dennis, if you could, set the scene for us tonight.
DENNIS SCHEIB, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I had just come up from the fifth floor, filing some papers and went by Judge Barnes‘s courtroom and then went by his chambers and then went on to the next building on the eighth floor to go before Judge Bogg (ph) and to deal with some court matters over there.
He just started calling the calendar. A couple of deputies kept running in there with their guns out pointed up in the air and said, there has been a shooting. Everybody, stay in the courtroom. And the deputies left. So, they left us in there without any protection at all. And then they come back about six or seven minutes later and they indicate Judge Barnes has been shot. Stay in the courtroom.
So, we again stayed in the courtroom. And all the judges, from what I understand—I even asked one deputy. I saw him in the hallway a few minutes later. I says, well, can we go in the judge‘s chambers, where we‘re locked in and safe? He goes, no, stay in the courtroom. I felt, wow, we‘re kind of unprotected here. There is nobody around to protect us.
We have no weapons and this guy is running around in the courthouse. And then, a few minutes alter—well, about 20 minutes later, we pull up on the Internet that the judge had died and several other people had been shot. And the deputies come in about 20 minutes after that and said, you all can go ahead and leave the building and told us to go ahead and go out.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Denis Scheib, thanks so much. We greatly appreciate it. And we will be back with you and many others.
Now, coming up, we‘re going to be talking to reporters on the scene.
But, also, there was a reporter from our Atlanta affiliate that was there.
And, actually, let‘s go to reporter Denis O‘Hayer. He‘s from WXIA outside the courthouse.
Denis, what did you see there morning? DENIS O‘HAYER, WXIA REPORTER: Hi, Joe. How are you?
I was about a block away at the time that the suspect encountered 43-year-old Deputy Hoyt Teasley outside of the courthouse. So, this would be after Judge Barnes and the court reporter, Julie Brandau, had already been shot and killed. He ran into Deputy Teasley on his way out. And from what we‘ve pieced together, deputy Teasley began chasing him.
And I was about a block away, about to go into our state Capitol for the legislative session. I heard five gunshots, by my count anyway. My cameraman, Richard Crabb (ph), and I looked at one another. We knew exactly what they were. They were very loud. We raced down the block toward the scene. We could see people running. We don‘t know if we saw the suspect or not, but people were running toward a garage across the street, where the suspect apparently made the first of several carjackings.
When we got to the scene, probably about a minute or so after we heard the gunshots, we saw Deputy Teasley on the ground, on his side after first, then on his back. And fellow officers were there immediately. Deputies from the Fulton County Sheriff‘s Department, City of Atlanta Police officers, they were desperately trying to revive him already. He had taken one gunshot to the abdomen. And we saw them try to move him to a squad car.
Now, normally, in a case like this, Grady Memorial Hospital, which has a terrific trauma center, is right near here. So, you would expect an ambulance to be here. And you wouldn‘t ordinarily move someone, for fear of aggravating the injuries. But they knew how desperate the situation was. They tried to load him into a squad car, first trying to heft him into a front seat. They couldn‘t do that. They couldn‘t get him in there.
They had to put him on the ground and then try to move him into a back seat. That didn‘t work either. They had to put him back on the ground. They were struggling basically with his body mass at this point. And he was not responsive. It was—it was absolutely gut-wrenching to watch. And they put him on the ground, began chest compressions. He was not responding at all.
And they continued to do that until the ambulance got there, which, by my watch, was probably about 10 minutes after Richard and I first heard the gunshots.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Denis O‘Hayer, thank you so much for being with us tonight and taking us back to those chaotic minutes 12, 13 hours ago.
Now let‘s bring in our all-star panel. We have Court TV‘s Catherine Crier, who, obviously, a former federal judge. She has also got a new book. It‘s “Deadly Game.” We also have private investigator Bo Dietl. We have Miami Police Chief John Timoney. And we have former FBI profiler Candice DeLong.
We are going to go to our panel, our entire panel, when we come back.
But, first, I want to quickly ask you, Judge, are you surprised that a sole deputy was left to guard this suspect?
CATHERINE CRIER, COURT TV: I certainly am, given the fact that those two shanks, as you mentioned earlier, were found just yesterday, that the judge and the DAs had asked for additional security in this case.
I hate to point fingers at this point, because certainly the deputies department has suffered a loss, but, yes, I think the security was quite lax.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, we‘re going to be back with you, Judge, and our entire panel, going to be talking to everybody when this SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY special report, Atlanta manhunt, continues.
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GOV. SONNY PERDUE ®, GEORGIA: It‘s a sad day when the very foundation of our country, the civil justice system, is threatened by someone creating such a heinous act in the courtroom.
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SCARBOROUGH: Two judges targeted in little more a week. One is killed, the other family murdered. Up next, more on what needs to be done, not only to protect our judges, but also to protect you in our courthouses.
That‘s when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard this noise like, help me, help me. So, I ran into the garage and she told me that somebody like point a gun on her and carjack her.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But, you know, he pulled in. And the next thing we knew, we heard some screeching tires. One of our employees went up towards the floor, caught just the ending of the exchange, where the person, I guess the suspect, jumped in the car to pull out, pulled out, made a left and was gone.
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SCARBOROUGH: You‘re looking at a live shot of Atlanta, Georgia, over Atlanta, Georgia, as the manhunt in middle America continues, police officers continuing to look for a suspect who may have gunned down and murdered three people outside of the—inside and outside of a courthouse, actually, in Atlanta, Georgia, and is responsible for the shooting of a fourth deputy, a female deputy that he overpowered before taking hostages and going into the courtroom.
Still with me tonight, we have got my all-star panel. We have got Court TV‘s Catherine Crier, private investigator Bo Dietl, Miami Police Chief John Timoney, and former FBI profiler Candice DeLong. And we‘re going to be with them in one second.
But, right now, let‘s go to MSNBC‘s Mark Potter and ask who is Brian Nichols and how was he able to take control of that courthouse.
Mark, what do you got?
MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, it‘s interesting.
There is nothing in the record until last year that suggests that Brian Nichols even had a violent pass. But late last summer, it got really bad, so bad that some of his friends actually worked with the authorities to find him and to take him off the streets. And last August, he was arrested on a charge of breaking into his ex-girlfriend‘s home and raping her repeatedly, bringing a machine gun into the home.
And he was on trial for that when that shooting occurred. Now, according to his family, he was raised in Maryland. He went to private schools. He went to colleges in Pennsylvania and South Carolina, even playing football for a couple of years. He lived in South Florida for a time and then settled in the Atlanta area.
According to court records and published accounts, he had a paternity suit during that time and, about 10 years ago, was put on probation for a drug-related conviction, but, again, nothing violent until that event a year ago, of which he was accused and, again, on trial when the shoot-out occurred. He lived in a gated community. He worked as a computer programmer. That was his last job.
He worked for a big company and had that job until his arrest. His sister-in-law just told “The Sun-Sentinel” newspaper in Fort Lauderdale that he was a good person, that he was raised well, and that the family, Joe, has no idea what happened to him.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you so much, Mark Potter.
Let‘s go back to our panel now.
Bo Dietl, I asked Judge Catherine Crier if she was surprised at the lax security at the courthouse. And, of course, that‘s my conclusion, not anybody else‘s here. But it certainly seemed lax to me. Are you surprised, in all of your time in law enforcement, that they had a female following this 6‘1“ man into a courtroom with no handcuffs on and basically put him in a position where he could overpower her and take the gun?
BO DIETL, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: You know, when you listen to the district attorney, any assistant district attorney, state that they requested extra assistance, extra security, after they found the two shanks in this guy‘s socks a couple of days before, this is outrageous, what happened now.
Even the judge requested to the sheriff‘s department for extra assistance with this. This guy came in the courtroom with two knives the day before or the day—two days prior. Now, all of a sudden, you have one—one correction person assigned to one sheriff—deputy sheriff assigned. He could overpower two people, with the size that he is. Now she has to take his cuffs off and he changes his clothes.
I mean, this is crazy. And the more I hear about it, the more angry I get, Joe. It‘s ridiculous, how this thing has happened. This is—you know, you have rules of procedures. This is an outcry. That Fulton County there, they have to investigate that and let the cards fall where they fall, because they don‘t have proper security there. And there‘s three people dead because of it. And let‘s...
SCARBOROUGH: Catherine Crier, I want to go back to you on that point again. You‘re a judge.
SCARBOROUGH: Somebody comes into your courtroom, has two knives, homemade knives, on them earlier in the week, you request extra security. And yet they put this guy, 6‘1“, with a woman, I think she is 5‘6“, 5‘7“, with a gun. Where is the breakdown there? How does that happen?
CRIER: Well, I would like to believe that, had I requested that sort of security, that individual would not be transported through the corridors without that security. That‘s the authority a judge should have. Actually, that‘s the authority that the DA should have.
If they were concerned enough, the sheriff‘s department is there to serve in that capacity. I understand they‘re understaffed. But this is—this is beyond any sort of norm. Again, I hate to criticize when they have lost someone and had someone else injured. But, at the same time, the security is basically inexcusable.
SCARBOROUGH: You hate—you hate to criticize, but those people have lost their lives...
SCARBOROUGH: ... because there appears to be very lax security.
Police Chief Timoney, let me ask you this question. I understand. We don‘t want to have suspects. We don‘t want to have defendants going into the courtroom with handcuffs on when a jury is sitting there. But, in a special case like this, where a guy is caught trying to smuggle in knives, and the judge asks and the DA asks for extra security, why don‘t you just keep the jury out of the courtroom until this guy is led in his handcuffs, the handcuffs are taken off, and then you bring the jury in, when you have got two or three police officers posted a safe distance away from him?
JOHN TIMONEY, MIAMI POLICE CHIEF: By the way, that‘s my recollection, my time with Bo in the Bronx, in Manhattan, where they would bring in the guy cuffed, sit him down in the chair, uncuff him. Then the jury comes in. And so, I agree with you.
But let‘s see what happens with this investigation and how thorough it is regarding if there were lapses. clearly, there may have been. And, as Bo said, let the chips fall where they may.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, John, where—tell me, how in the world can a guy shoot—shoot up a courthouse in downtown Atlanta...
SCARBOROUGH: Run into the middle of the street, 9:00, 9:30 in the morning, carjack an automobile, and still be at large 13, 14 hours later?
TIMONEY: Well, I mean, there‘s two possibilities, one of them, that he has gotten far away. I‘m not so sure about that. I can guarantee you that you they are going through every nook and cranny into the downtown and the surrounding area.
You know, he could be in one of the many indoor garages. He could be in a private house in its garage or in the back of a warehouse. And so they need to—before you start looking nationwide, you need to look within the vicinity, within the radius of the downtown area.
And time and time again, we know criminals, they will just hide and wait for doctors, for a day to pass and then come out and make good their escape. And so, don‘t assume for a second that he has fled the area. He may, but also he may not have. And I think that—you know, I know Richard Pennington. He is the chief of Atlanta. He is a pretty thorough guy.
SCARBOROUGH: Candice DeLong, what‘s your take on what‘s unfolded today?
CANDICE DELONG, FORMER FBI PROFILER: Well, it‘s pretty amazing.
It—you know, this is a guy that was on trial for multiple felonies, and all of interpersonal violence, very violent, interpersonal, and premeditated, appears to be. He was acquitted a couple of weeks ago. The jury was polled. It was 8-4. This time, apparently, he said to the DA, you‘re doing better this time, aren‘t you? Just said that a day or so ago.
And then this happens. It‘s—it just seems to me, with the judge asking for—I‘m sorry. The violence that he exhibited today does not really surprise me. And I think that the judge was wise to be asking for more security. It‘s indefensible that it didn‘t happen.
SCARBOROUGH: Judge Catherine Crier?
CRIER: Well, I didn‘t have an opportunity to hear Candice, because, in fact, I lost her audio.
But thus far, the comments that the police chief made, I agree with. And I‘m not sure what Candice said. But, in fact, this is the Fulton County man. To look in the immediate area is probably necessary. You had so many alerts out on the highway that the likelihood he is out of that immediate metroplex area—I‘ve lived in Atlanta for a couple of years. I think, probably, the chief is right on target.
DIETL: You know, Joe...
DIETL: Joe, you also have to check the phone calls that were made from the jail wherever they keep track of the phone calls that were made from jail.
It seems like this guy, believe it or not, had some kind of substance in life before he attacked his girlfriend. He had a job as a computer person there and all that. And something tells me that he ran out of bullets with that last guy, because he said he was going to shoot him and then he hit him with the gun. And he was doing a lot of shooting from when he got the gun. And a lot of those officers carry revolvers. So, he possibly could have been out of bullets with that gun, means that he would be looking for another weapon to protect himself or—not to protect him, to hurt somebody else.
SCARBOROUGH: Candice DeLong, if you‘re in charge of this manhunt, what do you do?
DELONG: Well, I think one of the first things that they‘re going to -
· that they should have done already has been done. And that is tremendous media involvement.
And this, of course, has not necessarily anything to do with the FBI. But if you think back, Joe, over the last several years, in cases where there has been intense media saturation, where the public can actually look at a photograph of a missing person, possibly a child or a suspect, these things have ended very quickly, in 24 to 48 hours.
One of the things I would be doing, of course, would be looking at any and all associates this person has. Whether you‘re on the run, you need money. You need assistance. We have no information yet that he has stopped and knocked off a 7-Eleven to get food and money and gas. Somebody is either going to be helping him or he is going to demand someone‘s help and it is going to end up being his demise.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you so much.
Thanks for being with us tonight, Judge Crier, Chief Timoney, Bo Dietl, and Candice. Greatly appreciate it.
And you know what? I guess, in this age of Amber Alerts and all the things that we have that help us, because we are so interconnected by TV and radio and Internet, that‘s what‘s so surprising; 13 hours later, we don‘t know where this guy is. And more people may die before this manhunt is over.
Now, coming up, as a desperate manhunt continues, Brian Nichols, they are still searching for him, suspected of murdering three people. We will continue on this “Manhunt in Middle America,” as this special SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY continues.
SCARBOROUGH: Up next, the massive manhunt for a cold-blooded killer continues. And I‘m going to be talking to someone who knew murdered Judge Rowland Barnes for 15 years.
But, first, here‘s the latest news your family needs to know.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We recognize that this is a very scary situation. We have witnessed in Atlanta today an act of violence in the criminal justice system that is certainly disconcerting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Welcome back to this special edition of SCARBOROUGH
I‘m joined again with NBC‘s Don Teague. He has been on this story all day and he is with us tonight from Atlanta.
Don, what‘s the latest?
TEAGUE: Well, Joe, as I mentioned a bit earlier, police wrapped up a news conference here just about an hour ago.
And there is one point they made in that news conference that you might find interesting. And that is that they‘re hoping that, under the cover of darkness, perhaps the suspect, Brian Nichols, will attempt to drive somewhere. As you know, they‘ve been looking everywhere for his car today. There have been really no sightings. So, they think he is possibly lying low somewhere.
If he gets out on the road and starts driving, they hope they have a better chance of finding him with light traffic, fewer cars out on the road, but a very heavy police presence all across Georgia tonight, because this manhunt has not let up. It‘s been a very long day for officers. But they say they‘re not going to quit until they find him.
In fact, they are working 12-hour shifts and they have a command post running 24 hours a day looking for the suspect in these terrible murders—
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Don, explain to us, if you will, the juxtaposition of the courthouse with the on-ramps to the interstates, how quickly this guy could get up into Tennessee. Again, they‘re looking around Georgia. But he could have gotten to Tennessee, what, in about an hour, hour and a half, or over to Alabama in about that time, if he had gotten on one of the ramps and—and moved—moved out quickly.
TEAGUE: Chattanooga, Tennessee, is about a two-hour drive from downtown Atlanta off of Interstate 75. And you‘re really only maybe a mile from the interstate here downtown, where the courthouse is.
And, as I was driving in this morning, about 9:30, shortly after this happened, on my way to the courthouse, I was surprised by how light the traffic was. And it was light on the freeways as well. So, he could have gone north. He could have gone south. He could be east or west, as you mentioned, Birmingham, Alabama, just about 90 minutes away. So, that‘s part of the reason this has gone out to a nationwide alert for this suspect, although police seem to hope at least that he is still in the general area, because this is where really the concentration of manpower is out there looking for him.
But I can tell you for a fact that law enforcement authorities across the country are now looking for Brian Nichols.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thanks so much, Don. We greatly appreciate it.
And, again, as somebody that was born in Atlanta, Georgia, I know an awful lot about the place. It really is. It is the heart—you say the heart of Dixie. Everything comes together in Atlanta, Georgia. All the interstates do. So, if he took off, and he‘s just a minute or two away from the interstate system there, he literally could have been in north, south, east or west, going—he could be halfway to Texas right now, for all we know.
Let‘s bring back in MSNBC‘s Lisa Daniels. She has some firsthand—firsthand accounts of what happened at the courthouse today.
Lisa, what do you have?
DANIELS: All right, Joe.
Well, again, we are relying on the accounts of eyewitnesses to piece together this horrible nightmare. So, let‘s bring in two people who were there right at the scene of the crime, who can give us a sense of exactly what they saw.
Felicia Humphries was there at the courthouse. And so was our other guest, Renee Rockwell.
Both of you were probably thinking, this was business as usual. It‘s a Friday morning. You were getting your coffee.
And, Renee, you walked into the courthouse. Tell us what you saw.
RENEE ROCKWELL, EYEWITNESS: I was on my way to Judge Barnes‘ courtroom, because I, too, had a case this morning. It was about 9:00. I understand that Judge Barnes was handling a civil matter initially. The criminal trial was supposed to start at 9:30. When I...
DANIELS: So, Renee, when do you get a sense that something is actually going wrong?
ROCKWELL: When I got off the elevator on—the courthouse is combined of the old courthouse and the new courthouse. This is important, because the part of the courthouse that Judge Barnes was in is the old courthouse. And the security is not exactly as up to date as the new courthouse is.
I got off the elevator in the new courthouse. I was turning the corner, walking down the hall. And, all of sudden, I saw a deputy‘s hat on the ground. The deputies were running. And I just made a joke to him. I said, what‘s the matter? Did somebody escape? And when I looked down and noticed that they had guns drawn, I got concerned.
Anyway, they started screaming at me. One of them whisked me into an elevator and there were about nine deputies inside of the elevator. A female deputy that was in the elevator put her head on the wall, put her hands on the wall. And she started crying. And I said, what happened? She said, the defendant got the gun and shot the judge. And I said, what judge? And when she said, Judge Barnes, well, I knew immediately that it was Brian Nichols, because I‘m aware of the case that‘s going on now.
DANIELS: All right, and, Felicia, I know that you also saw something terrible. You actually came across a body. Was that your first indication that something horrible had gone on inside?
FELICIA HUMPHRIES, EYEWITNESS: Yes. Yes, it was.
DANIELS: So, what—what did you see? Tell us where you were and what you saw.
HUMPHRIES: Upon myself coming into the—into the court building, I was told by a deputy to back up. So, I just backed up, turned around and walked to the corner.
And, as I walked to the corner, I leaned up against the building. And I happened to turn my head and see someone actually lying in the doorway. So, at that point, I saw officers and deputies coming about. And I still didn‘t know what was going on.
DANIELS: And what are you thinking when you come across this body?
HUMPHRIES: You know, it—I believe I was basically in a state of shock. I had never saw anything like that before. Just to see someone laying there motionless, the way he was, I actually couldn‘t believe what I was actually standing literally next to.
I couldn‘t believe what I was seeing.
DANIELS: All right.
And, Renee, a lot of people, when they look back on these things, say, hey, we knew that there was going to be a problem. The security was lame. Things weren‘t the way that they should be in—in walking these defendants to court.
But, is that what your sense was, even before today, that it was really a time bomb and something was going to go wrong?
ROCKWELL: The—generally, on the new side of the courthouse, the security is excellent and the deputies are in charge.
And the problem is, is that these deputies have guns. Now, you will probably remember that, years ago, some Atlanta police officers got in trouble, and they enacted a new policy wherein the police officers cannot take guns into the courthouse. I‘m sure they there were probably several police officers in the courthouse today without guns. And imagine how someone like that could have felt.
At any rate, when the deputy was in contact with the defendant, bringing him to the courtroom, it‘s my understanding that he overpowered her and had—had an absolute chance to leave the courthouse. But he went into the judge‘s chambers, looking for the judge, and then went into the courtroom, at which point he shot the judge and the court reporter.
DANIELS: Well, we know...
DANIELS: Go ahead.
ROCKWELL: Well, I also figured, because I also saw the deputy that was outside that had also been shot. And it looked to me that, in relation to where he was laying, that the defendant probably, that Brian Nichols probably ran back to the new courthouse, hit the stairwell, came down eight flights of stairs, and came out that door.
ROCKWELL: And that‘s when he came in contact with Deputy Teasley.
DANIELS: All right. OK, Renee Rockwell, Felicia Humphries, big thanks for both of you being here. We know it‘s really traumatic to go through it again—Joe, back to you.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thanks so much.
And more with our guests when we return to this special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, “Manhunt in Middle America.” The search for murder suspect Brian Nichols continues.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, let me bring in our panel.
We have Donald Schweitzer. He‘s a former homicide detective. We have got Courtney Anderson. She‘s a criminal defense attorney and workplace violence expert. We have Larry Pozner. He‘s a criminal defense attorney. And still with me is Candice DeLong. She‘s a former FBI profile—profiler.
Don, let me begin with you, former cop, former SWAT officer. Also, you are a lawyer. So, like me, you go through a lot of courthouses in America. What do you think? I mean, the security is dismal, isn‘t it?
DONALD SCHWEITZER, FORMER HOMICIDE DETECTIVE: It‘s horrible.
My experience is that, if you take any street cop out, out in America, and you put him in a courthouse and you see—and you have that police officer look at what these bailiffs are doing to protect the public...
SCHWEITZER: ... they would all be appalled.
The police officer—the bailiffs are basically part of the courtroom staff now. In other words, they‘re running the calendar.
SCHWEITZER: They‘re checking in with the clerk. They‘re doing everything except for protecting the public.
SCARBOROUGH: Civilians. They‘re basically civilians.
SCHWEITZER: That‘s right.
SCARBOROUGH: And how many times on the street? Let‘s say you got a guy who is 6‘1“. He has a lot of felonies on his record, a tough guy like this guy is. Would you ever put a 5‘6“, 5‘7“ female officer on this—or 5‘6“ or a 5‘7“ male officer on this type of guy?
SCHWEITZER: You would never. Any street-savvy police officer would have two or three, four people on a guy like this, particularly when they find weapons on him the day before like this. This is...
SCARBOROUGH: So why—so why do they do this in court—in the court—in these courthouses? Why do you have a convict that comes in and you basically just—you give him free rein?
SCHWEITZER: I think that part of it is the personnel that‘s in the courtrooms. They‘re not the people that want to be on the street. I think there should be more rotation for people that are from the courtroom to go on the street and bring those street cops into the courtroom. That‘s one thing.
The other thing is, let‘s get some awareness as to what courtrooms are really about. You got people that are angry. You got people that are at really in the worst parts of their lives. And they‘re—some of them are off the deep edge, and they will do something like this here. So...
SCARBOROUGH: Courtney Anderson, what‘s your take on what‘s happened today?
COURTNEY ANDERSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, it‘s absolutely devastating.
I mean, obviously as a defense attorney, I immediately was shocked and I thought back to times I‘ve been in the courtroom and I‘ve had very difficult clients or clients who have actually threatened me with physical violence. So, I mean, all of us who are attorneys who practice, you take your breath back and you think, my goodness, you know, that could be any of us.
SCARBOROUGH: Do you have any problem, as a criminal defense attorney, having your clients come into court, the court, especially a guy like this, who had two homemade knives found on him the day before, come in, in front of a jury with handcuffs on?
ANDERSON: Well, it‘s—once again, that goes back to, we don‘t want the jury to have a negative impression of our clients.
And I know it sounds maybe somewhat silly to the viewer at home, but,
obviously, when you get into the court, we want that defendant to have the
· the best opportunity to prove that the charges are not true.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Mr. Pozner, let me bring you in here.
What‘s your take on it? Do you think it is unfair to bring somebody in with handcuffs, especially if you caught them smuggling knives two days before? I mean, doesn‘t that—it seems like a safe precaution, right?
LARRY POZNER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, you certainly can be frisking these people. I don‘t know why that didn‘t get more attention.
We have this problem right now in Denver, Joe. We have a courthouse in the city and county of Denver where we bring our prisoners down the hallway in the middle of the public. It‘s dangerous to the public. It‘s demeaning to the citizen accused. And it‘s unnecessary. We have to protect the legal system. We have to protect the judges, their families, the personnel.
But the taxpayers don‘t want to do it. They just don‘t see a need. They think of it as coddling, when, really, what we are talking about is public safety and respect for the system of law.
SCARBOROUGH: Candice DeLong?
DELONG: I don‘t understand why someone, a defendant, couldn‘t be brought in, in handcuffs. This guy should have been handcuffed behind his back, and sit him at the defendant‘s table, then take the handcuffs off, then bring in the jury.
I—there‘s—nobody yet has said anything to make me see why that shouldn‘t have been done and shouldn‘t be done in the future.
SCARBOROUGH: I agree with you 100 percent.
Now, more with my guests in just a minute, as this SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY special report, “Manhunt in Middle America,” continues.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, right now, Donald Schweitzer, there‘s a movement from a member of Congress from Illinois to arm judges. Good or bad idea?
SCHWEITZER: It‘s not necessarily a good idea.
When judges get shot, they are usually in the midst of work, OK? They‘re not trained to be able to stand up and take fire. What we need is better security by the people that are there to do that. You know, if you want to give a gun to a judge and it makes him feel better, that‘s fine. But, really, that‘s not going to make him any safer.
In this case, it wouldn‘t have made a difference, because that guy who barged into that courtroom had a bead on that judge before he even knew what was going to happen. And that would happen 99.9 percent of the time.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, and you are—you are a former SWAT officer.
SCARBOROUGH: And this guy had hostages.
SCARBOROUGH: He had cuffed people in the courtroom. What‘s an old judge going to do? I mean, they‘re not trained to do that. You are exactly right.
You know, bottom line is here—I‘m afraid to say this—again, there‘s going to be an investigation. But the bottom line is here that there was lax security and there are three people dead tonight because of it.
I want to thank Candice DeLong, Larry Pozner, Courtney Anderson, Donald Schweitzer.
I wish we had a lot more time with our panel, but so much breaking news tonight. I‘m going to ask them back next back.
Also, Lisa Daniels, thank you so much.
Please make sure to tune in tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Lisa Daniels is going to be here. She‘s going to bring you a special report on the Atlanta manhunt for Brian Nichols.
Hey, live from Los Angeles, I‘m Joe Scarborough. Thanks for being with us on this special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. We‘ll see you on Monday.
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