More than 65 percent of shots fired by Augusta-area law enforcement officers in the past two years have not been aimed at criminals, but at dying animals.
Of the 47 shots fired by police officers in Columbia, Richmond and Aiken counties since Jan. 1, 1998, one was fired at an attacking Rottweiler and 30 shots were intended to kill injured deer on area roadways, according to use-of-weapon reports filed in each county.
All reported shots fired since 1998 in both Columbia and Aiken counties involved animal destruction.
The reports, which are required whenever an officer discharges his weapon, were designed primarily to keep an accurate account of shots fired but have evolved into a useful tool for supervisors.
Three accidental discharges were reported in Richmond County in 1998. A shotgun discharged in October as a deputy emptied the weapon, and a handgun accidentally fired in August as an officer pulled it from his holster.
The third occurred while a deputy was securing a house and was surprised by a large dog. He tripped as he backed away from the animal, unintentionally firing his weapon into the ceiling.
"We use the reports to ensure that each shot was justified, but also for training purposes," said Sgt. Pat Young of the Internal Affairs division of the Richmond County Sheriff's Department. "When an officer fires a gun accidentally, we can make sure that the proper training is implemented so that it doesn't happen again."
The remaining 1998 reports filed with the Richmond County Sheriff's Department included one shot fired at a vehicle and another fired into the air to alert another officer as a deputy was being assaulted.
"Warning shots are generally not allowed in the department, but in this case, the deputy had been assaulted and repeatedly bitten by this man and had done everything he could to get him off of him," said Sgt. Young. "They were in the woods, and the other deputies could hear him but didn't know where he was. He fired the shot to alert them, and in this case it was permissible. Each situation has to be looked at individually."
Also included in the Richmond County reports are the 11 shots fired at 29-year-old Alfaigo Davis in February 1998. Mr. Davis was pursued by police when he fled from a traffic stop on Georgia Highway 56. Mr. Davis stopped at a dead-end street and threw his car into reverse. Two Richmond County deputies fired 11 shots at Mr. Davis, hitting him with 10.
Reports also can be used to establish patterns of behavior with certain officers, showing possible evidence of excessive use of weapons.
"Sometimes the reports can be used to determine if there is a pattern developing with an officer," Sgt. Young said. "If we see an officer whose name keeps coming up in the reports because he has fired his weapon over and over, it's a red flag. Some folks spend 30 years with the department and never fire their weapon except on the range."
Scotty Fletcher can be reached at 868-1222, Ext. 111, or firstname.lastname@example.org.