Conversation With Sheriff Davis About The Tobesofkee Fishermen Shooting Case

davis-webI recently spoke with Sheriff Davis by phone for forty-two minutes and I learned several new details that haven’t  been reported elsewhere. Deputies Theodore Gaines and Salim Abushanab were pulled from patrol on April 15, 2015 and switched to jail duty and will be required to take remedial training in search, seizure and probable cause. But what hasn’t been reported is this is their second reprimand over the Tobesofkee shooting incident.

Both deputies also received a written reprimand in their personnel files much earlier in the case. As public outrage grew over this case I think Sheriff Davis felt the need for a more visible punishment beyond a written reprimand in their personnel files. It appears additional reprimands can be issued for the same infraction. The deputies are both former Macon Police department officers.

 Search warrant

The Bibb County Sheriff’s department conducted a search warrant of the house on Tuesday,  which was three days after the Saturday night shooting. They did not find a gun in their search. I informed Sheriff Davis that from tips I have received a car that was nearly always parked at the home prior to the shooting hasn’t been seen since that night and he responded that he had the same information and that they were looking for both the car and driver. It seems probable that the driver of this missing car is top on the list of suspects.

Sheriff Davis explained that the deputies should have locked the house down and not have allowed anyone to enter or leave until they had a search warrant.

“We could have gotten a search warrant if need be. We could have gone into the house, searched the occupants, done forensics examinations on whoever the occupants of the house were at that time.”

He also explained that there was enough probable cause with both the statement from the three fishermen and neighbors that a search warrant wasn’t really needed in this incident.

Without getting too legal, this is known as exigent circumstances. These are exceptions to requirements of a warrant under fourth amendment search and seizure. Exigent circumstances occur when an officer has a probable cause and securing a warrant might reasonably allow evidence to be destroyed. In this case the evidence would have been the gun as well as a gun residue test conducted on people inside the home and other forensic tests that needed to be done that night. Other sources also told me that a holster was found in the Tuesday search but no gun was found.

It is also extremely important to remember this was not the first time officers had been called to the residence. “Couple of theft calls, person down, minor domestic issues” said Davis which the deputies should have been made aware of from headquarters. This is another mistake in a long series. Had they been made aware of previous calls I don’t think they would have left so quickly. This has been reported before but seems to have been forgotten or overlooked in subsequent reporting by others.

Another critical consideration that I have not heard anyone else mention is the possibility there was an intruder or hostage situation. Shots had been fired and this had been confirmed by no less than four witnesses, the three fisherman along with a neighbor. It is possible Dr. Ghali had a gun pointed at his head when he opened the door and when the deputies left without first ensuring the safety of the occupants inside. That is always a consideration officers must take into account when shots are fired and they should never leave until they are certain the occupants inside a home are safe. That wasn’t the case here, but it was a possibility that needed to be ruled out before they left.

Culpability Extends Beyond Deputies

house lake view

Cove Where Incident Occurred

He described the actions of those deputies as inept and said they were insistent that they did not call a supervisor. I find it hard to believe a supervisor wasn’t called and one has to wonder if the deputies might be covering for a supervisor for some reason. What were they told if they called in for instructions and just aren’t telling Sheriff Davis?

When he spoke with his two deputies he said he told them they were all in the same boat. All of their superiors like captains, majors, and several more were getting off scott-free in a sense because their hands weren’t directly on this but as Sheriff he understands the buck stops with him and was not afraid of taking responsibility. I am not sure I agree that others don’t belong in that responsibility boat since a team could and should have been dispatched at some point late that night or early that morning after the deputies submitted their report. It wasn’t just the deputies that screwed up that night.

Presumably someone along the chain of command would have noticed the colossal mistake and sent someone early that morning and not three days later as soon as the mistake was discovered once reports had been submitted and reviewed. Perhaps more reprimands beyond the deputies are in order. Whoever was in charge Sunday morning while Davis was still out of town and the media had reported on it needs to explain why no team was sent Sunday morning.

kamal ghali

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kamal Ghali

Why wasn’t more done in the early hours that morning? Why didn’t they return at 7AM as even Dr. Ghali had suggested they do when he would no longer “be on call”. Did Dr. Ghali make any calls, texts, or emails between the time the shots were fired and the deputies arrived and if so with whom did he speak? Was family member and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kamal Ghali that specializes in criminal law consulted for advice? How did the shift supervisor and his superiors not realize as soon as they read the incident report that they needed to return immediately since the deputies had screwed up? All important questions that deserve an answer.

Sheriff Davis said he was especially angry that their mistake was about the most basic and fundamental duty a police officer has to perform and also the first thing they learn in police academies. “This is not the type of mistake you ever want your deputies to make because it is so fundamental to the job.”

Additional Steps Being Taken

Sheriff Davis said that he is not giving up on this case and is determined to make an arrest if at all possible. He plans to meet with the family attorney again soon. The attorney seems to be representing the entire Ghali family. But he also said they have several other avenues they are now pursuing because the Ghali family has not been as cooperative or as forthcoming as they could be. He told me that he couldn’t tell me all the secrets of the profession, but he does have some ideas and options left to turn up the pressure and get to the truth and he won’t let up.

I understand that once the Ghali family got lawyered up and no gun was found in the Tuesday search things got exponentially harder for him to make an arrest, but he indicated he would use every avenue at his disposal to seek justice for the fishermen and I believed him to be sincere. He seemed very resolute that this was a stain on his departments record that he wanted to remove by making an arrest.

Sending Divers to Recover the Bullets

house lake view 2

Ghali Residence

I asked sheriff Davis if sending divers to look for the bullets was an option. He said “that would be like like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack”. He explained that in past cases where they sent in divers for even much larger objects including drowned bodies that the tide, sediment, and murkiness makes recovery extremely difficult. Anyone that has swam in Tobesofkee is probably very familiar with the squishy clay bottom as well which makes recovery of a small bullet unlikely but not impossible.

I am confident that had the fishermen been killed or injured by the shots that divers would have been sent with a metal detector if no other evidence had been found. The fishermen likely remember where the shots landed in the water and once the trajectory is taken into account it would not be an impossible task with an underwater metal detector.

I understand his rationale for wanting to explore easier methods to solve the case first before divers are sent down, but that likely remains an option he hasn’t ruled out entirely in the future if it appears to be the only option left on the table.

My Assessment of Sheriff Davis As a Man

davis interview

Sheriff David Davis

Sheriff Davis is a very affable man that feels a lot of remorse for the way this Tobesofkee assault with a deadly weapon/attempted murder case was handled. He was sincerely regretful that his deputies mishandled the case that night. I got the sense that he is very approachable and also is bound and determined to arrest the guilty party. I also respect and greatly admire the fact that he is taking full responsibility and trying to make needed changes. Politicians that take responsibly and admit mistakes should always be recognized and applauded since so many others deflect and seem to be teflon-coated.

I understand that Sheriffs are both officers of the law and are also elected politicians, but I got the real sense that this has weighed heavily on David Davis. He felt that the consolidation and merger between the old Macon Police and Bibb Sheriffs department had been largely successful and was proud of his record up until this point.

He felt like this was a blemish on the job and reputation both of him personally as well as the entire department which was a distraction from an otherwise successful record and be is bound and determined to correct that mistake.

Sheriff Davis also said that had the culprit been arrested that night that this would have been a byline in the paper and the person would have likely been bailed out the same night and few people would have followed this story beyond that.

BASIL GHALI

Basil Ghali has an arrest record for threats of violence

He is correct that incidents like this happen all the time and not much attention is paid to them because there are almost always bigger stories both in town and around the nation. But had the shooter been arrested and they had an arrest record for violent behavior like Basil Ghali for example it would have still received big coverage.

Sheriff Davis said he is a glass half-full kind of guy and the one good thing to come out of all these mistakes is to make sure all deputies have the proper training so similar cases like this won’t ever happen again. Underlying issues for improving the department came to light as a result of the scrutiny over this case and he plans to take measures to address that as well. He said an assessment to procedures and protocols would be examined to correct and prevent these kinds of errors again.

I hope a policy change is in the works requiring a sergeant, lieutenant, captain, major or other ranking officers to be informed and involved in the decision making process and sign off on similar cases in the future. If more people are in the loop and culpable for blame, the likelihood of a similar error will be greatly diminished.

Transparency and making sure several more ranking officers are involved in critical decisions being made in the field immediately after a shooting incident in particular would ensure mistakes like this won’t be repeated. It shouldn’t ever take three days for a warrant to be issued after a shooting again and in fact shouldn’t have taken a few hours.

Conclusion

fishermanI don’t think one mistake should ruin or sully the reputation of the entire Bibb County Sheriff’s department or of Sheriff David Davis. I’m still investigating my own leads that I’ll continue to forward to Sheriff Davis and will publish any new information that arrives after it can be corroborated.

My phone call with Sheriff Davis was both cordial and educational and I got a good sense that he has no intention of giving up on an arrest or waiting for this to all just blow over.

I think he views this as a stain on a mostly unblemished record and one he desperately wishes to remove by making an arrest.  I still want to see justice for the three fishermen and the shooter arrested and we will stay on this story and keep digging.

The three fishermen are rightly upset that no arrest has been made and it moved slowly at first but aren’t giving up. It was out of frustration they felt nothing was being done that they held a press conference.

You also cannot help but notice that things seemed to kick into high gear not long after my articles Who has been terrorizing Fishermen at Lake Tobesofkee and Crypic Blogs Connected To Tobesofkee Shooting were published and now two dedicated detectives have been assigned to the case. A local TV station even featured these articles in a report though failed to give proper accreditation to Georgia Watchdog and instead mentioned “some blogs”. It is precisely this type of lazy journalism by local media which prompted me to cover this and so many other big local stories in greater detail. Long live the fifth estate!

When I asked the fishermen directly about their reaction they responded with a hashtag that expressed their sentiments. #InThisForTheLongHaul

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