The following email was sent to my corporate and local bosses last Friday morning (February 1) at 10:20 a.m. by Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree. The body of the letter appears here unedited, exactly as he wrote it:
“This morning a Deputy in my agency was involved in a shooting incident which resulted in the death of a suspect. Per our protocol, we contacted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to conduct the investigation. Due to the sensitive nature of the incident, the fact that it is an ongoing investigation, the pending notification of the deceased family members and the privacy of the Deputy during the investigation, neither my office nor the GBI has Officially released any the names of the victim or the Deputy. We have sent out a news release advising that were would be releasing details of the incident once the initial interviews are completed and the incident scene released. However, it has been brought to my attention that a representative from your Broadcasting affiliate WGAC has posted information via a Facebook website under the name “the Austin Rhodes Show” naming a Deputy they believed to have been involved in the shooting incident. While I cannot confirm at this time if the named Deputy was actually involved, I find it extremely reckless and irresponsible to release information on an ongoing investigation that has not been confirmed by either agency. Furthermore, no consideration was made to the family of the Reported Deputy as if he was involved, he would not have had an opportunity to inform them of his status. I understand the need and desire to be first in reporting “breaking news” and even though this information was reported via a social media website and not through your official email, it goes without say who the individual works for and the station they represent. I am extremely disappointed in your reporting tactics and they do not favor well with my administration. I sincerely hope that, this issue will be addressed as I would like to continue a working relationship with your media affiliate.”
Of course, the sheriff was referring to the shooting and subsequent death of suspect Chaz Williams by Deputy Mike Woodard in the wee small hours of that Friday morning.
It is true, there were no official RCSO releases involving the details of the situation, none at all really, until well after my morning radio report at 7:50 a.m.
In that report, I pretty much laid it all out. I named Williams, I said that he had attempted to elude officers following a traffic stop. I reported that he was wanted on another warrant, and that he had escaped to his girlfriend’s apartment. I reported that he had harmed himself severely with a knife, and was refusing to come from behind a locked door inside that apartment. I reported that at some time around 3:45 a.m., he rushed the team of officers who were there to arrest him. He did this while covered with bloody gore, brandishing a knife and screaming maniacally. Woodard was at the front of the group, and was the only one with a clear shot as Williams aggressively confronted them. Woodard did what he was trained to do in such a situation, and he took aim center mass. Multiple shots. Neutralized perp. Officers shaken, but unharmed. Williams was pronounced dead at approximately 4:20 a.m.
Sometime shortly after that, Erin Woodard received a very brief call from her husband, explaining that he was fine, no harm had come to him and that he was going to be quite busy and late coming home. Click.
The conversation lasted 10 seconds. I know that because she told me that herself in a phone call following this (unedited) note sent to my radio station email account:
“Not that my opinion would phase you but I just want to say as Deputy Woodard’s wife I’m glad for the update(s) you gave. I received one 10 second phone call this morning right after it happened just saying he was ok but he wouldn’t be home on time. Without your updates I would have been lost & I’m just glad you do try to give accurate info. Have a great weekend & keep up the good work!”
Au contraire, Erin. Your opinion matters to me more than anyone’s in this case. It should matter way more to Sheriff Roundtree, too. He should have been the one calling Erin, or at least talking to her Friday morning briefly, after her husband. He did not.
He should have been the one giving her some details, or at the very least explaining thoroughly that her husband had acted bravely and professionally, and that he was fine. He showed up to do TV interviews wearing his Sunday best, so he was on the scene and in the know, and if he can tell Barclay Bishop and Jessica Dill that all is secure and well, how about a phone call to Mrs. Mike Woodard at some point during the festivities to tell her everything was okay?
The information that I reported at 7:50 came long after the scene had been secured and the danger eliminated. Members of dead man’s family were there, and to be quite honest about it, I could not care less if the relatives of a criminal killed violently while attacking police officers hear his name, or his fate, on the radio.
The family of the deputy who had to pull the trigger, that is quite a different matter. More than three hours after a perp is pronounced should be enough time for anyone to get in touch with their loved ones, and by the number of official people on the scene (more than 30, I am told, by the time the sun came up), there was no way in hell the names of all involved were not being spoken freely.
But for some odd reason, Sheriff Roundtree had nothing specific to say about names, circumstances, motivations or anything else until 2 p.m. And most of the details came closer to the 5 p.m. news hour. That is unacceptable, and in a situation similar to this in the future, it could be disastrous. It did not used to be this way under like conditions, so where is all this coming from?
I understand the sheriff has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the media at arm’s length, employing a more restrictive policy concerning all but specifically approved communications between his people and the press, but this was ridiculous. I had the story, and I had it right, at 7:50 a.m. I put no one at risk, and according to the wife of the deputy involved, my information did more to calm her concerns than his own people did.
If I could speak to Sheriff Roundtree I would remind him that there is no one in Augusta media over the last 20 years that has more consistently and enthusiastically supported law enforcement than I have. His note to my bosses was not only inaccurate, but composed during a period of time when there were far more important things to do than be complaining about me. He really should have known better.
But hey, he is not going anywhere, and much to his chagrin, neither am I. So someone tell the sheriff we need to sit down and talk. If he is concerned about me, he can start by telling me. I told him during the media meeting he held some weeks ago that his restrictions were unworkable, and in most cases unnecessary. I laid it out man to man, he can do the same for me.
Or, shoot me an email, like this one (unedited) I just got moments ago from Deputy Woodard’s mother-in-law:
“Austin – I am not going to make this a long letter; I know you don’t have time to read long letters. I just wanted to say, thank you for the support you have shown my family. I am the mother-in-law to Mike Woodard. I appreciate the kindness you have shown to my daughter Erin and her husband Mike. Law enforcement is a thankless job; most that are in it for a career do so because they love it (we both know it’s not for the pay). I will be the first to say I may not always agree with you, but you always shoot straight. You say what needs to be said, whether we like to hear it or not. Thanks again for your concern, Alison Diamond”
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