Originally created 07/23/01

Shooting of deputy was an accident



A Richmond County sheriff's deputy was not at fault when he fired a shotgun and seriously injured another deputy during a training exercise on school violence last week, authorities said Monday.

Deputy Nicholas Capobianco was acting as one of two school shooters during a Wednesday training session in a pitch-black room when he fired a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with blanks, said Capt. Ray Myers, head of the Sheriff's Training Center.

Deputy Jovonda McNeil, the trainee, was standing close to the weapon and was injured when the gun fired near his left leg, the captain said. The deputy was rushed to University Hospital, where he remained on Monday. He is expected to undergo surgery this week to repair the damage to his leg.

"It took a chunk all the way out of my shin. You can see all the way to the bone," Deputy McNeil said Monday afternoon from his hospital bed. "I'll be here for another week."

Sheriff Ronnie Strength called the incident an accident, saying there were no signs of wrong-doing.

"You have to be realistic. In training exercises, sometimes things go wrong," Sheriff Strength said.

The incident led the sheriff's office to discontinue use of blanks in 12-gauge shotguns, but the school-violence training will continue through Thursday, Capt. Meyers said. An internal investigation into the matter continues, Chief Deputy Sid Hatfield said.

Deputies are undergoing exercises at the training center, learning how best to respond to a school shooting much like the one that occurred at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. At the time of Wednesday's shooting, Deputy Capobianco and Sgt. P.J. Fogle were playing "bad guys" and were hiding behind a desk in a mock school building.

Deputy Capobianco could not see where the approaching deputy was walking and fired the weapon about three or four inches off the floor, Capt. Myers said. Deputy Capobianco did nothing wrong, the captain said.

"Somehow the deputy got too close to the muzzle of the shotgun," he said. "(Deputy Capobianco) couldn't tell how close he was. Anytime you use blank ammunition, you are subject to something like this happening."

In an unrelated matter, Deputy Capobianco remains the subject of a federal lawsuit by Patricia Pace that accuses him and Deputy Gary Clark Jr. of using excessive force when they shot her son to death in February 1998. Alfaigo Davis, 29, was killed by officers in a cul-de-sac on Jonathan Court.

Mr. Davis had fled from a traffic stop and raced his vehicle to the Apple Valley subdivision, where he was shot 10 times by the officers. The officers told investigating Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents that each fired at Mr. Davis when they considered the movement of Mr. Davis' vehicle a danger to the other.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 orgreg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.