District Attorney Scott Ballard announced Thursday that he will seek a charge of misdemeanor reckless conduct for Peachtree City Police Chief William McCollom following the GBI’s investigation into the New Year’s Day incident in which he shot his wife.
Ballard said the GBI’s “very thorough” investigation included “dozens of interviews, many hours of video and audio tapes, forensic testing, and background regarding Chief McCollom.” He said the available evidence did not indicate the shooting was intentional.
“There is no evidence to suggest that Chief McCollom intentionally shot Mrs. McCollom, nor did the investigation reveal any motive to cause her harm,” Ballard said in an official press release.
Ballard revealed certain details of McCollom’s version of events, including that the Chief drank some amount of whiskey and had taken two Aleve PM in order to sleep. He told investigators he did this regularly to help him sleep at night.
McCollom said he had gone to bed around 9:30 p.m. New Year’s Eve after consuming the whiskey and sleep medication with his service weapon, a 9mm Glock, in its holster on the dresser in his bedroom. He said at some point in the night he was awakened by barking dogs and got out of bed, taking his gun with him, to check the house. He said he found nothing, and when he returned to bed he placed the gun under the sheets beside his body.
McCollom claims he was asleep when the gun went off, sometime between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. He believes he was attempting to move the gun in his sleep to the bedside table when it went off, but Ballard indicated McCollom doesn’t have a good idea of what happened because he said he was asleep.
Certain physical details from the bedroom seemed to corroborate McCollom’s interpretation of events, Ballard said, though he reiterated that McCollom’s account of what happened was pieced together based on what he believed he must have been doing in his sleep prior to the gun going off.
McCollom said he remembered that Margaret McCollom (the two are not married currently, she is the third of four ex-wives and they’ve since moved back in together) was laying on top of the sheets on her stomach, to his right in the bed. He was laying on his back and had the gun underneath the sheets at around knee level, between them. He believes that, in his sleep, he went to move the gun over to the bedside table on his left when it went off.
Physical analysis of the bed and sheets indicate the gun was fired from underneath the sheets, Ballard said, which is in line with McCollom’s version of what happened.
Additionally, the investigation showed that the spent shell was blocked by McCollom’s right palm, leaving a “bad powder burn,” according to Ballard.
Ballard said McCollom actually thought he might have shot himself in the hand at first.
“From what I’m told, this is pretty painful when this happens. You wouldn’t do this on purpose, from what the GBI told me,” Ballard said of the injury to McCollom’s hand from the spent shell.
Ballard described the wound to Margaret McCollom as life-threatening and indicated she is currently at “Shepherd Spinal Center where she is being treated for paralysis below the waist and numerous complications.”
Based on numerous interviews that included Chief McCollom’s ex-wives, former employers, and others, Ballard said there was no indication of any possible motive on his part.
“The GBI interviewed all kinds of people, and even people who said they did not like the Chief say that he loves his wife,” Ballard said.
While none of the interviews indicated domestic problems for the couple, Ballard did confirm that a “tipster” from Florida had contact Peachtree City Police alleging to know Margaret McCollom and to be aware of domestic violence problems in the relationship. That tip was passed on to the GBI, but “two to three weeks” of attempts to contact the tipster and follow-up failed.
“When the GBI reached out to them and even did an intelligence search to find other contact information, they weren’t able to get back in touch with this person,” Ballard said.
As to what precisely happened that night, Ballard said there is an “obvious issue” with Chief McCollom’s story because he claims to have been asleep up until the gun going off. Margaret McCollom also said she was woken up by the gun shot, and therefore cannot say what specifically happened.
“In the final analysis it doesn’t matter what you think may have happened, it’s what you think you can prove to a jury. I don’t have any proof of a motive or intent on his part to shoot her. I do think I have enough to take to a grand jury that he made a very, very criminally reckless decision to take that gun back to bed with him after taking that medicine and alcohol,” Ballard said.
The level of Chief McCollom’s impairment at the time of the incident will likely be a key part of a trial should the grand jury choose to indict him. Because it was a key factual aspect of the case, Ballard could not go into great detail, but said he was basing his views on witness testimony as well as a partially drunk whiskey bottle at the scene, which he said was purchased that same day.
Chief McCollom had blood and urine tests done on New Year’s Day, but Ballard said the tests did not occur until the “late afternoon.” The gun shot occurred around 4 a.m., and McCollom claimed to have drank the whiskey prior to going to sleep at 9:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
By the time the testing was done McCollom had no alcohol in his system. The tests did show the active ingredient for Aleve PM, as well as small amounts of hydrochodone. Ballard said McCollom has a prescription for the pain killer, but said he had not taken one that day, and that experts he spoke to confirmed the small amount suggested McCollom had not taken the pain medication that day.
Ballard said that misdemeanor reckless conduct carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
A grand jury can choose to indict McCollom with a more serious charge or not to indict him at all. The case will be presented to a grand jury on April 15.
Chief McCollom has been on paid administrative leave since the incident, and the city has not commented during the investigation.
On Thursday, following the announcement of Ballard, Peachtree City Mayor Vanessa Fleisch offered the following comment.
“We have not seen the GBI report so we cannot speak to the reasoning. We certainly appreciate the efforts of the GBI and our District Attorney and have faith in our judicial system as this moves forward,” Fleisch said.
Peachtree City Police Chief William McCollom and his lawyer will be allowed to attend and make a statement at his grand jury hearing on April 15, a unique right given only to public officials and law enforcement who are accused of committing a crime in the course of their duties.
District Attorney Scott Ballard explained that he had to make a call on whether this statute applied in this case. Typically, neither the accused nor their attorney would be allowed to attend a grand jury in their case.
Ballard said the statute allows for “limited” actions to be taken. McCollom will be granted the opportunity to make a statement under oath before the grand jury. His lawyer cannot speak, however, and cannot question anybody.
The decision to allow McCollom this right was partially made out of caution, Ballard said, because if he were indicted and a court later decided McCollom should have been able to appear at his grand jury, the charge could be thrown out.
“I had to make a call, was he in the performance of his duties? Well he’s the police chief, he’s in his jurisdiction, he hears the disturbance outside, he gets up and grabs his duty weapon. I erred on the side of caution and said I’ll give him a chance to come to grand jury,” Ballard said.
Chief McCollom’s version of events the night prior to what he claims was the accidental shooting of Margaret McCollom is that he heard dogs barking outside his home during the night and took his gun with him to check the home for any danger. Finding none, he said he returned to bed and put the gun next to him under his sheets and fell back asleep.
It was hours later in the night that McCollom claimed a gun shot woke him up, and he later said he believed he was attempting to move the gun from under the sheets across his body to the night stand, all while still asleep.
Ballard said a grand jury simply has to find “probable cause” for a crime in order to indict, and could choose to indict on a more serious charge than the misdemeanor Reckless Conduct his office is seeking.
“They’re looking for probable cause for a crime and they can indict for any crime they find probable cause for. This is an instance where they’ll hear more than one side of the story, potentially,” Ballard said of the unique circumstances.
Reckless conduct is defined in Georgia law as the following:
A person who causes bodily ham to or endangers the bodily safety of another person by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his act or omission will cause harm or endanger the safety of the other person and the disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
If indicted and convicted on this charge, the maximum penalty is 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.