Augusta, GA – A Richmond County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) has been suspended without pay after he hit a fellow deputy in the back of the head with a flashlight during a dispute at the scene of a shooting.
The incident occurred the Circle K gas station on Peach Orchard Road just after 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 7, Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree said during a press conference on Tuesday morning.
RCSO Field Training Officer Deputy Brandon Keathley and his trainee arrived at the scene to find a 17-year-old male who had been shot.
The wounded victim was seated in the front passenger seat of a vehicle.
As they removed the teen from the car and attempted to administer first aid, Deputy Nicholas Nunes arrived at the scene and tried to take over CPR, Sheriff Roundtree said.
Deputy Nunes told the trainee and Deputy Keathley to step away, but Deputy Keathley refused and told him to stay back because they were assessing the victim’s injuries.
“Deputy Nunes then pushed Deputy Keathley away from the victim,” Sheriff Roundtree explained. “Deputy Keathley then struck Deputy Nunes once in the head with the tip of his Stinger flashlight.”
The blow caused the deputy to bleed, a department source told KRDW.
A third deputy arrived at the scene and removed Deputy Nunes from the area as other deputies continued to tend to the shooting victim, Sheriff Roundtree said.
“At no time was care interrupted, as the incident occurred prior to the start of CPR,” the sheriff told reporters. “I know they both had the desire to try to aid the victim, but our protocol [dictates that] once aid has been administered, then that person proceeds.”
The victim ultimately died of his wounds.
The sheriff said he has no idea why Deputy Nunes wanted to take over the scene.
Sheriff Roundtree said that both deputies “acted inappropriately” during the altercation, and that Deputy Keathley was responsible for “escalating” the situation “with the introduction of the blunt object.”
Deputy Keathley was initially placed on administrative duties after the incident.
Deputy Nunes was treated and released for his injuries, and was recovering at home.
“Per our protocol, an internal investigation was conducted,” Sheriff Roundtree said. “It was noted that there were multiple lapses in judgement that night, and that the behavior of the two experienced deputies was embarrassing and highly inappropriate.”
Deputy Keathley has been placed on unpaid leave for a period of 30 days, which is the maximum penalty that can be imposed without bringing termination into the picture.
He must also undergo counseling, Sheriff Roundtree said.
Deputy Nunes received a written reprimand for his role in the incident.
Sheriff Roundtree also noted that some details of the incident had been “intentionally exaggerated” by media outlets for the “purpose of sensationalism.”
He praised the “professional” news outlets who waited for facts to be gathered, and admonished those who put out inaccurate information in a rush to be the first to break the story.
Such behavior “causes misguided divides among our citizens,” the sheriff said. “For some, this was the desired effect.”
Sheriff Roundtree said that the RCSO will continue to be transparent with the public, and that he hopes this incident will serve as a reminder to deputies about what is expected of them.
“This is a calling that’s bigger than them,” the sheriff said. “Sometimes they have to put their personal emotions aside, which is a very hard thing to do at times, for the betterment of this agency and the citizens they’re trying to save.”
Deputy Nunes does still have the option to pursue criminal charges against Deputy Keathley, Sheriff Roundtree said.