Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Security Breach Is Latest Blunder

Organization: Man with gun arrested inside stadium shortly before opening ceremonies attended by president, foreign dignitaries.

July 24, 1996|ERIC HARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Olympic organizers struggling with transportation snafus and technological glitches Tuesday were trying to explain another embarrassing slip-up: Security guards allowed a man with a gun to slip into the stadium where President Clinton and other dignitaries were to attend opening ceremonies.

The man, who wore a security guard's uniform, was arrested at 7:15 p.m. Friday, before Clinton arrived, Olympic officials said. He carried a loaded semiautomatic .45-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun and a pocketknife.

"I'm not sure we'll ever be able to determine how he got in," said William Rathburn, Olympic security director.

The Atlanta Games are being touted as the most heavily guarded event ever held on U.S. soil, with an unprecedented price tag for the 30,000 security personnel and variety of high-tech devices being employed to protect athletes and spectators. The opening ceremonies, attended by the president, the first lady, important U.S. officials and foreign heads of state, was supposed to be one of the most secure events of the Games.

But authorities were not able to adequately sweep the venue before the start of the ceremony because a security fence wasn't erected until 4:20 p.m., Friday, about four hours before the start of opening ceremonies, Rathburn said.

"The perimeter fence was not completed and the area not sealed until a very short time before the ceremonies began," he said. "Ideally, it should have gone up days before the opening ceremonies. We would've had a lot more confidence in the security that was in place."

The security breach was the latest in a host of glitches that have bedeviled the Games, which continue until Aug. 4. The International Olympic Committee has demanded that local organizers act swiftly to solve transportation and technology problems that have marred the first five days and has even called Mayor Bill Campbell into meetings to ensure the city is doing all it can to assist.

Indications are that local organizers simply have been overwhelmed by the scope of their responsibilities. The Atlanta Games are the largest in history, with a projected attendance of 2 million and 10,700 athletes from 197 countries participating.

Only 7,055 athletes participated when the Games were held in Los Angeles in 1984. The 11 million tickets available to events in Atlanta are more than the tickets available in the Los Angeles, Barcelona and Lillehammer Olympics combined.

An estimated $300 million is being spent on security, most of the money coming from the federal government. But with all of the attention being paid to security in the wake of recent terrorist events, a man with no ticket, no credentials and a holstered gun in plain sight managed to get into the stadium.

Rolland Atkins, 55, of Aurora, Colo., was arrested Friday when security personnel noticed him sitting in a spectator seat wearing a security guard's uniform. Officials say he had no connection to Olympic security.

After Secret Service agents determined he posed no threat to dignitaries, he was turned over to local police who charged him with criminal trespass, carrying a pistol without a license and theft of services.

A police spokeswoman said Tuesday he had been released on bail.

Atkins, who has a criminal record in Colorado, including arrests for assault and shoplifting, told authorities he wore the uniform and carried the weapon only because he wanted to get into the stadium to watch the program.

Rathburn was unsure whether security personnel allowed him through checkpoints or if he was able to sneak into the stadium before the fence was erected.

If he entered before the facility was "locked down," Rathburn said, "that would mean he entered several hours before the ceremonies began and somehow was not visible to security personnel until he was arrested. . . .

"A lot of people might have seen him earlier and might have assumed he was a police officer," he said.

Rathburn said he did not know why there was a delay in erecting the fence, which was put up by a contractor. Nor had any security personnel been found who admitted allowing Atkins into the stadium.

Rathburn said, however, that security measures had been increased at venues to keep similar breaches from occurring.

"We're very concerned about this having happened, and we're going to do everything we can to avoid a recurrence," he said.

Mal Hemmerling, chief executive officer of Sydney 2000, the organization that is putting on the next summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, said no city is really prepared until the Games actually start. But he has been closely observing the Atlanta Games in hopes of learning from the mistakes here.

"Atlanta shows that planning for transportation systems and everything else has to be thorough and that the technology has to be proven and tested before you get to the event," he said.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|