Sheriff's captain resigns after missed phone call

Columbia County veteran didn't get message before fatal March shooting

A captain of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office resigned this week after discovering he inadvertently deleted a voice message requesting a deputy at a Belair Conference Center party where an Augusta teen was fatally shot.


Capt. Bill Probus, who ran the sheriff's office patrol division, voluntarily resigned Wednesday to pursue another job opportunity about a week after finding out a voice message delivered as an e-mail was deleted prior to the party, Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle said.

"He just accidentally deleted it along with nine other e-mails, and it was gone," Whittle said. "He didn't see it."

At the March 19 party, James Sterling Gillette Jr., 19, of Augusta, was shot and killed while working at the Grovetown venue for the 16th birthday of the late James Brown's grandchild. A fight broke out that sent more than 200 people outside, where the shots were fired.

Since the fatal shooting of Gillette, police have arrested five Augusta residents in connection to the crime. Johndrick Lors Levert Barnes, 20, was charged with murder. Brandon Devon Berry, 17; Morrieo Demetrius Carswell, 17; Jordan Dashawn Harrison, 18; and a 16-year-old boy were all charged with lying to authorities.

An employee of the conference center called on March 15 and left a message for Probus asking if a deputy could attend the event, Whittle said.  Probus did not immediately get the message because he was in a training session.

Voice messages left for sheriff's office personnel are sent in an e-mail to the designated party. The system is set up in such a way that the person can then listen to the message by opening the e-mail.

No one from the conference center called the sheriff's office to confirm that a deputy would be at the party, Whittle said.

"It's just a mistake all the way around," he said. "Bottom line, we had a shooting and a person died."

The employee did call about a week ago to inquire why the deputy didn't show up, Whittle said.

Information technology staff found that the message had been deleted with nine other e-mails on the same day it was sent.

"It wasn't an after-action incident, where he tried to cover it up," Capt. Steve Morris said. "That would have been a whole (different) situation."

Probus started with the sheriff's office in May 1995, Morris said. His 16th anniversary would have been Sunday.

Probus had no record of disciplinary actions and 18 commendation letters filed on his behalf, Morris said.

"We hate to lose him, that's for sure," he said.

To avoid future confusion, Whittle said that clients requesting deputies at an event will receive a completed form listing the date, time and officer's name as a way of confirmation.




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