A high school social studies teacher who fired a gun inside his Georgia classroom in February, hitting a window and alarming students and staff just days after the Parkland, Fla., shooting massacre, was sentenced on Tuesday to two years in prison, followed by eight years probation, according to Conasauga Judicial Circuit District Attorney Bert Poston.
Jesse Randall Davidson, 53, pleaded guilty to criminal damage to property and to carrying a weapon within a school safety zone — both felonies — as well as disrupting the operation of a public school — a misdemeanor.
Conditions of his probation include not possessing a firearm, getting mental health treatment and not working with students under the age of 18.
Davidson was cooperative with law enforcement and had already indicated he would be taking responsibility for his actions, Poston said in a statement on Tuesday.
February 28 began like any other school day at Dalton High School located about 90 miles northwest of Atlanta. But “without authority or permission,” Davidson, an apparently well-liked teacher, had come to school armed with a loaded Taurus .38 caliber revolver, Poston said.
He taught his first period class, followed by a planning period without students.
As the third-period students tried to trickle in, they found Davidson’s classroom door locked. When Principal Steve Bartoo tried to enter, “Davidson warned him that he had a gun and then fired a single shot,” Poston said.
The Dalton Police Department determined that Davidson’s goal was not to hurt anybody else, but most likely to be killed by police, “an act sometimes described as ‘suicide by cop,'” Poston said.
But Poston said the school resources officer was able to de-escalate the situation so that Davidson was taken into custody without the use of deadly force.
Davidson’s attorney, Richard Murray, said his client “has had schizophrenia and bipolar (disorder) for a while and (was) struggling with that,” reports the Dalton newspaper Daily Citizen-News. “He’s on five medications now and he’s doing wonderful.”
“The school was the place he felt loved,” Murray said. “He did not mean to hurt those kids. But he was so absorbed in his own depression and his own mental illness that he just wasn’t considering them.”
Bartoo put the school on lockdown after Davidson’s gun went off, then ordered an evacuation. As students fled, one twisted an ankle. It was the only physical injury related to the incident.
It came when the nation was especially on edge about school shootings; two weeks earlier a gunman had killed 17 students and educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In a tweet posted the day of the Dalton shooting, Chondi Chastain took issue with that strategy.
She wrote, “my favorite teacher at Dalton high school just blockaded his door and proceeded to shoot. We had to run out The back of the school in the rain. Students were being trampled and screaming. I dare you to tell me arming teachers will make us safe.”