Originally created 07/13/01

Vest saves officer in drug shootout



Richmond County narcotics Investigator James Tredore can thank the makers of his bullet-proof vest for saving his life Thursday morning.

The vest stopped a .357-caliber Magnum bullet fired at him by a suspect arrested in a drug bust early Thursday. Investigator Tredore, 31, was in good condition at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital after the shooting.

"He was lucky," said Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength. "If he had not had that vest on - of course, none of us know the final outcome, but we know it would have been devastating."

The officer underwent exploratory surgery Thursday to determine the extent of injuries to internal organs caused by the force of the bullet, which rammed part of the vest into his lower right abdomen. The bullet stuck in the vest.

Sheriff Strength said doctors did not know when Investigator Tredore would be released.

The man accused in the shooting, Dennis Lee Richardson, 36, of the 1700 block of Fairwood Drive, was being held Thursday in the Richmond County jail. He is charged with aggravated assault on a police officer and misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Another target of the drug investigation, Samuel Vincent Hodge, 25, of the same address, was arrested and charged with trafficking in cocaine and marijuana possession, Sheriff Strength said.

Officers expect to file more charges against the two, the sheriff said.

Mr. Richardson shot Investigator Tredore after the officer entered the residence at 1:14 a.m. and forced open the door of a locked bedroom, Sheriff Strength said. When the officer called for help, Investigator Mike Williamson entered and Investigator Tredore pointed to the closet where Mr. Richardson was hiding, the sheriff said.

Investigator Williamson ordered Mr. Richardson to drop his weapon, and when he didn't, the officer fired one shot from his .40-caliber Glock, which struck a wall. Mr. Richardson then threw his weapon to the floor and surrendered, the sheriff said.

Officers searched the residence and seized about 8 ounces of powdered cocaine, a small amount of marijuana, a .40 caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun and the .357-caliber Magnum, they said.

Two other people in the house were questioned and released. They are Johnnie Lee Smallwood, 24, who also lives at the Fairwood Drive residence, and his 16-year-old girlfriend. The teen will be charged with disorderly conduct and turned over to juvenile authorities, Sheriff Strength said.

Narcotics officers suspected illegal drug activity at the house and had been watching it for quite a while before Thursday's raid, Sheriff Strength said.

Before the raid, officers stopped Mr. Hodge on Gordon Highway and used his key to enter the house, which has an iron gate on the front door and burglar bars on the windows.

Sheriff's office policy calls for all officers to wear bullet-proof vests, but they may use their

discretion about wearing them when the heat index reaches 95 degrees. Narcotics officers, however, are required to wear them on all raids.

Many people think that when a projectile hits a bullet-proof vest, it ricochets off, but that is not the case, Sheriff Strength said.

"There's some blunt-force trauma (at the point of contact) if it hits, especially with this .357 Magnum handgun, which is a very, very powerful gun," he said.

"When we got to the hospital, our officer was bleeding. There was a bullet hole. He was taken to the hospital. The doctors even said, 'We've got to go in there and find the bullet.' The bullet was later located in the vest, but by all appearances it did look like the bullet was entered into his body."

The vests are lighter and better now than in past years and are getting better every year, Sheriff Strength said.

"We're looking at some now that look like a T-shirt," Sheriff Strength said. "This particular one was not. But it did the job."

Investigator Tredore has been with the sheriff's office since 1993. He was promoted to investigator in 1999 and worked in the burglary section before being transferred to the narcotics division May 1, 2000.

THE LIFESAVER

This is the type of vest that saved the life of Richmond County Sheriff's Deputy James Tredore:

Ultima, threat Level II, made by Second Chance of Central Lake, Mich.

The outer shell is made of Kevlar, an organic fiber introduced by DuPont Co. in the 1970s that's five times stronger than steel on an equal basis weight but much lighter. The insert that goes into the vest is made of a fiber introduced by Second Chance called Zylon.

The vest is guaranteed to stop all hand-gun projectiles, including bullets ranging from a 9 mm pistol to a .44-caliber Magnum.

It is not guaranteed to protect the wearer from knives, sharp-edged or pointed instruments, center-fire rifle projectiles, steel-core armor piercing or special-purpose projectiles or rounds that achieve higher-than-standard factory velocities.

A vest costs from $400 to $600.

Source: Second Chance

PRIOR ARRESTS

Thursday wasn't the first time Dennis Lee Richardson and Samuel Vincent Hodge have had brushes with the law. Here are some of their prior arrests:

Mr. Richardson was arrested in:

April; charged with shoplifting and misdemeanor marijuana possession

Mr. Hodge was arrested in:

January; charged with misdemeanor reckless conduct

February 2000, September 1999 and October 1998 on misdemeanor probation violations

July 1998; charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct

July 1998; charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession

January 1998; charged with misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon

February 1997; charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass

October 1997 and December 1997; charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct

August 1997; charged with misdemeanor probation violation

November 1996; charged with misdemeanor simple battery

Source: Richmond County court and jail records

POLICE FATALITIES

At least five local police officers and deputies have been fatally wounded in the line of duty since 1970:

July 16, 1997: Officer Michael D. Stephenson, a Richmond County school safety officer, was shot and killed by a burglar he had placed unhandcuffed in the back of his car after responding to an alarm at Jamestown Elementary School.

December 18, 1990: Sgt. Charles Thomas Hammock of the Augusta Police Department was shot and killed while exiting his personal vehicle to go into his apartment. Police say three people shot Sgt. Hammock for no reason.

July 3, 1988: Officer Herbert Lee Evans Jr. of the Augusta Police Department was killed at the Law Enforcement Center in an accidental shooting by another officer.

Jan. 1, 1979: Richmond County sheriff's Deputy Larry Douglas Stevens was shot and killed while investigating a domestic dispute.

Jan. 18, 1970: Officer Jimmy O. Harris of the Augusta Police Department was shot and killed while responding to a call about a domestic dispute.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.