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ATLANTA 1996

Guard Who Saw Bomb Now Called a Suspect

Investigation: Security officer who warned authorities shortly before Olympic blast is questioned.

July 31, 1996|ERIC HARRISON and MIKE CLARY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ATLANTA — Three days after a pipe bomb hung a wreath of terror over the centennial Olympic Games, investigators said Tuesday that the security guard who had been hailed as a hero for finding the bomb and warning authorities was now a suspect in the case.

No arrests have been made, and authorities stressed that many people have been questioned in connection with the bombing. An FBI source added, however, that Richard Jewell, 33, who worked for a Southern California firm under contract to provide security to a portion of the park, could correctly be called a suspect. "We'll see where it goes after we talk to him," he added.

Jewell, who was questioned Tuesday evening at FBI offices here, denied to reporters that he planted the bomb, which killed an Albany, Ga., woman and injured 111 others when it sent shrapnel flying into a crowd gathered for a free concert. Ten of those injured were still hospitalized Tuesday.

Information from a variety of sources caused authorities to want to question Jewell, said a law enforcement source. He declined to detail evidence.

Jewell, who worked as a security guard at the AT&T Olympic Global Village, where the major music concerts are held, first was questioned for about 10 minutes Tuesday afternoon by two FBI agents at his apartment in the Claremont Park section of Atlanta. Moments after the agents left, Jewell followed, clad in sunglasses, shorts, a white T-shirt with the logo SECURITY on the back and security accreditations around his neck.

Hours later, attorney Watson Bryant emerged from Jewell's apartment and said FBI Agent Don Johnson told him "Jewell was not a suspect, was not a subject, was not a target."

"Richard had nothing whatsoever to do with planting this bomb," Bryant told reporters.

The beefy suspect, 33, while still being hailed as a hero, gave several television interviews in which he modestly explained his role in the bombing. 'I love Atlanta, and I want to be a part of the feeling of the Games," he told NBC.

He added, "I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I did the job I was trained to do."

Later, Jewell denied planting the bomb. "No, sir, I did not do this," he told reporters outside his apartment.

As for reports that he was under investigation, Jewell said, "I'm sure they're investigating anyone who was in the area."

Jewell said in interviews following the explosion that he hoped his stint as an Olympic guard would lead to employment with a law enforcement agency.

His ambition evoked memories of an incident at the end of the 1984 Olympics, in which a Los Angeles police officer was initially hailed as a hero for disarming a bomb on the Turkish team's bus but was later arrested for planting the device. The officer said he hoped that by earning plaudits he could transfer out of the Metro division.

Jewell was an employee of Piedmont College, a 1,000-student private school in Demorest, Ga., from April 1995 to May 21, 1996. In a statement Tuesday, the college said that when President Ray Cleere learned that Jewell had found the bomb he notified authorities of "some concerns related to [his] previous employment . . . at Piedmont College. It should be noted that he was allowed to resign after a number of minor employment incidents. However, he was generally considered a good employee."

"He certainly enjoyed the limelight while he was here," said Cleere. "He was not a bad employee, but his level of investigative enthusiasm we felt was a little too much for a campus of our size."

Jewell has had a series of law enforcement jobs, working for nearly three years as a deputy with the Habersham County Sheriff's Department in northern Georgia. A sheriff's dispatcher who declined to be identified said that Jewell left the office a little more than a year ago. The dispatcher would not characterize Jewell's employment history there.

Jewell then went to work briefly as a guard with Piedmont College before leaving in May to take a post with the Borg-Warner security firm, then hiring guards and security staff to provide help at the Olympic Games.

Borg-Warner, which had been hired by AT&T to provide security outside its quarters at Centennial Olympic Park, lost its security contract before the Games and was replaced by a firm headed by an Anthony Davis & Associates, based in Bloomington, Calif. The Davis firm let some guards go and kept others, among them Jewell.

"I was pleased with his performance," said Davis. "We stand by him. But because of the allegations he is now on paid leave."

Jewell was the only Atlanta resident hired by the Davis company, which has 50 other people working in Atlanta, all of them Californians. The background check on Jewell was done by Borg-Warner and no additional background check was done by Anthony Davis & Associates. "We absorbed him," Davis said.

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