Guns taken from Georgia teacher after car set afire two years ago: sheriff

Associated Press

A Georgia teacher accused of firing a handgun in his classroom had three rifles taken away after setting the family car ablaze at his home two years ago, according to a sheriff's report obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

But authorities responsible for protecting his workplace -- Dalton High School -- say they didn't learn about the disturbing episode until this week.

Deputies in Dade County, where social studies teacher Jesse Randal Davidson lives, took him to a hospital for a mental evaluation and seized the rifles for safe-keeping after he torched the Mitsubishi Outlander on Aug. 13, 2016.

This sheriff's report and two others from Dalton Police in Whitfield County show Davidson has been hospitalized at least three times in recent years as people worried about his state of mind.

Davidson didn't hit anyone when he allegedly fired a handgun out his classroom window at Dalton High School on Wednesday, but it caused chaos and immediate calls to abandon the idea of arming teachers as a solution to school shootings. President Donald Trump and other Republicans have endorsed arming teachers following the killings of 17 people at a Florida high school two weeks ago.

Davidson faces six charges including aggravated assault; terroristic threats and acts; and having a weapon on school property. His lawyer hasn't returned phone and email messages from the AP.

The additional details about Davidson's past run-ins with law enforcement emerged as the school reopened Friday.

A deputy saw heavy smoke and flames pouring from the Mitsubishi as he pulled up to Davidson's home in the small community of Rising Fawn, Georgia, the sheriff's report said. The deputy told Davidson's wife Lisa and their daughter Megan to seek safety in his patrol car.

Davidson's adult son, Johnny, told the deputy that his father "was not acting like himself and was sitting down with a rifle in the back yard watching the vehicle on fire."

Johnny Davidson was eventually able to talk his father into giving up the gun, described in the report as a Russia 7.62 rifle. No injuries were reported. Two other weapons — described as an Ithaca .22-caliber rifle and a Savage 7 mag rifle — also were seized.

In March 2016, Davidson walked into the lobby of the Dalton police headquarters and told a wild story including his suspicions that someone had been murdered, police said. Detectives couldn't verify that any of it was true, and he was taken to the hospital since he'd expressed thoughts of hurting himself, police wrote in their report on that episode.

In January 2017, school employees and a police officer began searching Dalton High after Davidson went missing. He was finally found sitting on the curb along a street a few blocks from the campus, being propped up by two school staff members, police said.

Dalton police informed school officials after they investigated the rambling story at the police station, but spokesman Bruce Frazier said police investigators only became aware of the burning car situation this week.

The family has faced financial hardship in recent years, federal court records show.

Davidson's wife told the sheriff's deputy who arrived to find the Mitsubishi engulfed in flames that the couple had argued that morning about money, a few hours before the car was burned. They'd filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in late 2015. As part of that case, the Dalton teacher listed six rifles and one shotgun on a list of assets he owned.

School officials say they can't talk about mental health issues of specific staff members. But Dalton High Principal Steve Bartoo told reporters that "as far as I know he was fit to be at work."

"We don't allow anyone in a classroom unless they are capable of doing their job and fit for their position," school system spokeswoman Pat Holloway said.

But school officials might not have been aware that his guns had been taken the day his family car was burned.

"I very seriously doubt that they knew about that incident," Dade County Sheriff's Sgt. Chad Payne said Friday.

"It resulted in him being transported for a mental evaluation," Payne said. "Once he's in that ambulance and on the way to the hospital, his medical care becomes private so I doubt that they would know anything about it."

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