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Clayton Police bomb squad members enjoy their work

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

There are only three seconds between the moment members of the Clayton County Police Department Bomb Squad hit the trigger on the detonator, and the moment the item they want to destroy explodes.

From a distance of 300 feet, they get to watch that item, whether it's a hand grenade, or a Louis Vuitton briefcase, blow up. From that distance, much of what they get is a brief "boom," and a cloud of black smoke which slowly drifts into the air.

Several bomb squad members, however, said that moment is everything to them.

"It's short and sweet, but just it being short and sweet makes the day for us," said Capt. Johnny Robinson, a member of the bomb squad.

"That's what we do," Lt. Kyle Stevens said. "We blow stuff up, and then we pick up the pieces."

The bomb squad consists of five explosive-ordinance-disposal technicians, and two canine handlers, who are responsible for testing and destroying any potentially explosive devices the Clayton County Police Department's uniform division officers encounter while responding to an incident.

On Thursday, the bomb squad used C4 explosives at the Clayton County Police Department's Firing Range in Lovejoy to destroy a hand grenade, and later a Louis Vuitton briefcase, during a training exercise.

The grenade was recovered, along with a 12-gauge shotgun and several other weapons, a bulletproof vest, and some illegal drugs, a week ago from a house on Debbie Lane in Jonesboro. Three people found in the house at the time were charged with a variety of crimes, including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, giving a false name and trafficking methamphetamine.

"Once they did a safety search of the house, that's when they found this grenade in a box," said bomb squad member Lt. Michael O'Shields. "We kept it stored in a containment vessel in a safe location. It had been wrapped in plastic and kept in a box for a while. All of the safety features that come with a grenade were still intact, so I just wrapped some duct tape around it to keep the trigger in place, just to be on the safe side.

"There was no need to do anything immediately. There was no risk to anyone," O'Shields said.

Robinson said police officials were 95-percent sure the grenade was not live, so it was kept for several days until Thursday's training exercise. He estimated the rust-covered grenade was at least 40 years old.

Even though it was detonated as part of a training exercise, Robinson said the grenade was treated as a live explosive because some uncertainty remained about its explosive potential. The squad stood 300 feet away from the grenade when it was exploded.

"Anytime we're not 100-percent sure about something, we'll blow it up just to be safe," Robinson said. He said the bomb squad uses explosives to destroy as many as three hand grenades per year. Some war veterans keep unexploded grenades as souvenirs in their attics, Robinson said. The explosives are discovered by relatives after the individual dies, he said.

After the grenade found last week was detonated with a muffled "boom," only a small cloud of black smoke, and limited damage to the hole the grenade was lying in, bomb squad technicians decided the grenade had not been live after all.

"If it had been live, it would have been a lot louder, and the hole would have been a lot bigger," O'Shields said.

Later, a robot was used to take a water explosive to a briefcase as part of another training exercise on how to use the robot. A water bottle filled with a narrow C4-filled tube and water was used to open the briefcase. Instead, the briefcase, which has been used in several training exercises, was left in two pieces.

Clayton County Police trainee Josh Snyder operated the robot with a computer located inside a mobile command center. Snyder, a former U.S. Army police officer who has been undergoing training for nine months to be a member of the bomb squad, said he enjoys working with the explosives.

"I love it," Snyder said. "I never know what I'm going to find or run into. It's always something new every day."