By Curt Yeomans
Four Clayton State University police officers were slowly creeping down a hallway in the school's Business and Health Science Building Wednesday when a gunman jumped out from behind a corner with a weapon pointed at Clayton County Police SWAT team member Sgt. Francisco Romero's head.
"You better get out here, or I'm going to shoot him," the gunman yelled at the Clayton State police officers.
"He's got a gun... Please, do as he says, or he is going to kill me," Romero said as he pleaded with the officers.
The gunman then used Romero as a human shield as he dragged the hostage into an empty classroom. Romero was then forced to sit in a chair in the back of the classroom as the gunman continued to point the gun at his head. One of the Clayton State officers ran into the room and shot the gunman with paint bullets.
"Holster your guns," Romero yelled to the officers.
The situation was not real. It was a training scenario.
The "gunman" was really Clayton County SWAT team member Master Patrolman Ricardo Hill. The SWAT team was leading an "Active Shooter" training session for Clayton State's Police Department. The training included a classroom session in the morning, and practice scenarios in the afternoon.
"It gives some kind of uniformity when you're working with different agencies," Romero said. "With continuous training, hopefully, this will be a tool they can use. This is just a foundation. By no means is this all they have to do to be ready when a situation like this really occurs."
Clayton State's Department of Public Safety, which is also the university's police department, coordinates the active shooter training with the Clayton County Police Department every two years to make sure campus police officers are up to date on SWAT-style training. The school has never had a real-life active shooter situation, said Clayton State Police Chief Bobby Hamil.
"We would be the ones who respond first ... so it helps to take a proactive stance," Hamil said. "If any incident did occur, we would be familiar with the campus, while the Clayton County Police would be in unfamiliar territory."
Even though there has never been a real-life active shooter scenario at Clayton State, the university was put on lockdown in January when students and faculty members reported seeing a man carrying a gun on campus. The man was never caught, and the lockdown ended when someone matching his description was seen walking off campus on a security video.
Hamil said the situation was still beneficial for his officers. He said he came up with a list of 25 areas where improvement was needed after the situation was over. These areas included campus communication, and training for building managers and students on what to do in an emergency.
"We had a real-life situation that resulted in no injuries, and no loss of life," Hamil said. "That's one of the best ways to train for these types of situations."
Clayton State Police Deputy Chief Rex Duke said the situation in January highlighted the need for frequent training of the university's police officers. "We usually really focus on the active shooter unit because that's been really prevalent over the last few years," Duke said.
Clayton State Police Sgt. Willie Finley, who has been with the department for 12 years, has now completed three active shooter training sessions with Clayton County police. He said it's helpful because the university does not have much experience with gunman-type situations.
"It's realistic training, and we don't get that very often around here," Finley said. "But, we have had several of these situations [at high schools] in Georgia, so you always have to be prepared... that's something you can't just wait for it to happen. You've got to be prepared."