When a case is pending I am very limited in what I can discuss about that case. If you think about it, that’s a pretty good rule.
We want jurors deciding a case based upon the evidence they hear in court and not what they read in the papers or see on TV.
Now that the case against former Peachtree City Police Chief William McCollom has ended, I think it is important to clear the record about some matters.
I didn’t really know Chief McCollom. He came to the police department to serve as assistant chief and we didn’t have an opportunity to interact in that capacity. He had only been chief a few months before the tragic night when his ex-wife was injured. I had talked with him once by telephone while he was chief, but we had never met in person.
If I had developed a relationship with him, I would have asked a district attorney from another circuit to handle the case. As it happened, I felt no conflict whatsoever and felt it was my responsibility to make the decisions that prosecutors make in such matters.
I didn’t have to ask for the assistance of the GBI. The Peachtree City Police had already invited them to investigate before I knew about the shooting. That was exactly the right decision by the department. It was critical for an unbiased agency to review this incident and the GBI is the proper agency for that job. They do this all the time.
I was very impressed by the Peachtree City officers during the entire case. It must have been an incredibly difficult time for them. Those men and women handled the stress and uncertainty of those times with admirable professionalism. They continued to protect the citizens of their city as if nothing had happened.
Chief McCollom cooperated fully with the investigation. He did everything asked of him, even when it must have been very emotionally painful for him to do so.
Maggie McCollom is an angel. For weeks I feared that she would die. At the same time I prayed that she would walk. Those prayers have not yet been answered and doctors seem to believe that she will forever be paralyzed from the waist down. I hope they are wrong.
Maggie and William remain together, though they are not married. They moved to Florida. If Maggie had her way, we would not have pursued any charges against William—she is convinced that the shooting was accidental.
The evidence supports that conclusion. All of it. There is no way that I would ever be able to prove otherwise. Any criminal charge that required me to prove that he intentionally shot her would be a waste of time.
That only left two options. Bring no charges. Or, charge the misdemeanor offense of reckless conduct. The grand jury and I chose the misdemeanor. A person violates that law if he “causes bodily harm to…another person by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his act or omission will cause harm or endanger the safety of the other person and the disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation.”
The grand jury and I felt that when he got into bed with another person with a loaded gun after ingesting alcohol and sleep medication, he violated this law. And we felt that he should be charged despite a life of service in law enforcement.
Thursday he pled guilty. He must pay a fine of $1,000.
And I’m left with an empty feeling. It seems so inadequate. It makes nothing better.
But, I’m certain that we did what the law requires. He didn’t commit a felony. We didn’t charge him with one. He broke a misdemeanor law and he has pled guilty to it.
I wish the criminal justice system could always make things better. But, for this particular tragedy we’ll have to accept that it only did the best it could.
Scott Ballard is District Attorney for the Griffin Judicial Circuit, which consists of Fayette, Pike, Spalding and Upson counties.