Originally created 07/24/01

Deputy absolved in shooting

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

Deputy Nicholas Capobianco was playing the role of a high school shooter during last week's training session in a pitch-black room, said Capt. Ray Myers, the head of the Sheriff's Training Center.

Deputy Capobianco, one of two deputies cleared three years ago in a highly publicized police chase shooting, fired a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with blanks, Capt. Myers said.

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 Monday. He is expected to undergo surgery this week.

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

Sheriff Ronnie Strength said there were no signs of wrongdoing. "You have to be realistic. In training exercises, sometimes things go wrong," he said.

The incident led the agency to discontinue use of blanks in 12-gauge shotguns and start allowing light into the room. The school-violence training continues until Thursday, Capt. Meyers said.

Meanwhile, an internal investigation continues. Because it was an accident, the internal review is being handled by the sheriff's office, not the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the sheriff said.

Hundreds of area deputies are undergoing exercises at Blythe Elementary School, learning how best to respond to a school shooting similar to the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado.

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 a school storage area. Deputy Capobianco was on the ground under a desk and could not see where the approaching deputy was walking when he fired the weapon about 3 inches off the floor, Capt. Myers said.

Deputy Capobianco did nothing wrong, he said. "Somehow the deputy got too close to the muzzle of the shotgun," the captain said.

Deputy McNeil remained upset over the incident when interviewed at the hospital Monday. He said Deputy Capobianco could have reached out his hand, touched him and said, "You're dead." He said that was the instruction in other training.

Deputy Capobianco has visited the injured deputy in the hospital, and Deputy McNeil said he holds no ill will toward him.

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 fatally shot her son in February 1998. Alfaigo Davis, 29, was killed by officers in a cul-de-sac on Jonathan Court in south Augusta.

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 GBI 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.


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