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Deputy Fired for Lying About School Shooting

January 10, 2002|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — The sheriff's deputy who gave conflicting accounts of the shooting death of a student in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre was fired Wednesday.

Deputy Jim Taylor told the parents of Daniel Rohrbough that he saw the 15-year-old fall to the ground while fleeing the school, apparently shot dead. That contradicted another statement Taylor made to his superiors, in which he said he didn't see the shooting.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Pat Sullivan said Wednesday that Taylor's actions violated department policy against lying. Sullivan also said transcripts of police radio transmissions prove Taylor was not in a position to see any of the shootings in front of the school.

"I am extremely disappointed that false information regarding the tragedy of Columbine High School was provided to the families of the victims of Columbine by a member of my staff," Sullivan said. "I sincerely apologize for the unacceptable conduct of one former member of my organization."

The action comes as allegations in the Columbine case are heating up. On Tuesday, the families of five of the shooting victims called on the U.S. attorney's office to convene a federal grand jury to look into what they say has been a police cover-up of the Columbine investigation.

Last week, the same group demanded a coroner's inquest and again asked the Jefferson County district attorney to convene a grand jury into the shooting of Rohrbough.

The boy's family has long claimed that Daniel was accidentally shot as he fled the school. Only one of the three bullets that struck him has been recovered, and ballistics reports have been inconclusive.

Taylor, who has been a friend of Rohrbough's stepfather for more than 20 years, met with family members in March 2000. Unaware that the conversation was being taped by the family, Taylor told them he saw a boy running on the day of the school attack. Suddenly, he said, the boy fell to the ground, apparently shot. Taylor said he realized the boy was Daniel when he saw newspaper photos the next day.

If Taylor did see Rohrbough when he claimed, that would conflict with the day's official timeline, which places Rohrbough's death much earlier. Officials believe the shooters--Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold--killed themselves within 30 minutes after initiating the attack with bombs and automatic weapons fire. The only weapons discharged after that came from law enforcement officers.

The deputy's other statement, made in writing about two weeks ago, differs greatly from what he told Rohrbough's parents, Brian Rohrbough and Sue Petrone. In the statement, he claimed to have seen little of the day's events and said he told the family only what he had seen on television and read in newspapers.

The Arapahoe sheriff says Taylor was in a group of officers who were on the periphery of the school that day and unable to see much of what happened. Because they were so far from the scene, they were not required to fill out an incident report at the time.

"It's all very sad, the whole thing," said Barry Arrington, attorney for Rohrbough's parents. "I wish Deputy Taylor hadn't lied. I am absolutely persuaded he told Brian Rohrbough and Sue Petrone the truth. If someone could give me a motive why a man would pack up his wife and kids and drive over to tell people heartbreaking news, I'd listen. There are too many facts that Deputy Taylor knew and discussed for him to have been so far away that he couldn't see anything, as the sheriff says."

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