Atlanta police admit mistakes after shootings

Police acknowledge that suspect Brian Nichols, shown here in court earlier this week, spent up to 12 hours undetected outside a busy mall.Ric Feld / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The city’s embattled police department acknowledged Friday that it made mistakes just after last week’s deadly courthouse rampage, and the chief revealed that the suspect spent as many as 12 hours undetected outside a busy mall.

Police Chief Richard Pennington said he will oversee a full review of his department’s response to the attacks, communication problems between agencies, and their ill-fated focus on searching for a stolen car they believed suspect Brian Nichols was using to flee.

The car later turned up in the same parking garage from where it was taken.

“We should have gone through the entire building,” Pennington told a news conference. “We didn’t, based on the information we had at the time.”

Authorities say that while the 33-year-old Nichols was in the Fulton County Courthouse last Friday for his rape retrial, he attacked a deputy and retrieved her gun from a lock box, then moved on to the courtroom and killed a judge and a court reporter. Authorities say he later murdered a deputy and a federal agent before surrendering.

While acknowledging missteps, Pennington told The Associated Press after the news conference that Nichols eluded capture for so long because of his inconspicuous behavior.

Pennington said Nichols hopped on a subway train shortly after the shootings and rode north about seven miles, to the Lenox Square Mall stop. Wearing a jacket he had allegedly stolen during the carjacking at the parking garage, he spent much of the day milling about in the streets around the mall. He did not apparently enter the mall, the chief said.

Nichols didn’t surface until about 13 hours after the morning shooting, when officers received a report of a couple assaulted near the Lenox Square train station by a man matching Nichols’ description.

The police chief said authorities were looking into whether the birth of Nichols’ baby boy three days earlier had added to his stress from being jailed and on trial in a case where conviction could bring a life sentence.

“He probably did snap,” Pennington told AP. “He could have, after getting the deputy’s gun, just walked out of the courthouse. He didn’t do that.”

Pennington, who cut short a Mexico vacation when he learned of the shootings, noted that the sheriff’s department, not the police department, is responsible for courthouse security and running the jail.