By Jason A. Smith
A Henry County Sheriff's deputy will not be charged with a crime in connection with the shooting of his four-year-old daughter, by her twin brother.
The Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office declined Tuesday to pursue a case against Deputy Michael Clark, according to District Attorney Scott Ballard.
The shooting took place Friday at approximately 11:30 a.m., at Clark's home on Teamon Road. Authorities said the girl was shot in the hip by her brother, with a gun the deputy had laid on top of a hutch in the home.
Ballard is the district attorney for a region which includes Spalding, Fayette, Pike and Upson counties. He said his office examined evidence from several angles, to determine whether to charge the deputy.
"Most of the time, to be guilty of a crime, you have to intentionally do an act," said Ballard. "By all accounts, he didn't intentionally cause his daughter to be shot. Since it was really nobody's fault, you have to look at a handful of statutes that allow you to prosecute somebody for being negligent."
Those statutes, Ballard continued, centered on the crimes of cruelty to children in the second degree, reckless conduct and furnishing a pistol or revolver to a minor.
"Any of those statues would require a pretty extreme level of carelessness by the deputy, in order to convict him," the prosecutor added. "So, I asked the detectives to focus their investigation on just how careless he was when he laid the gun down."
Clark, said Ballard, cooperated with investigators and "talked as openly as he could" with them about the shooting. Ballard said the evidence obtained in the case, indicated the boy was looking for a toy and found the gun instead.
"The parents had taken away a set of Mickey Mouse ears [from the boy], and had set them on top of a hutch," said the District Attorney. "When the father comes home, he usually puts the gun in a lock box and locks the door to the room where it's kept. On this particular [occasion], he was tired and it was late, so he set the gun on top of the hutch."
The boy, according to Ballard, dragged a stool over to the hutch, which sits on top of a desk, and climbed to a shelf on the hutch. The child then reached for the mouse ears, and came down with the gun in his hand, Ballard said.
"We don't know what happened at that point," he added. "But what we do know is that the parents heard a bang, and thought it was a balloon popping. They came into the room and saw the girl on the floor, and the boy holding the gun. Under the circumstances, I didn't think the deputy had been careless enough to be guilty of a crime."
Deputy Clark's daughter was treated for her injuries in the shooting, and later released from an area hospital.
Henry Sheriff Keith McBrayer said he learned Tuesday afternoon about Ballard's decision not to file charges against Clark, who has worked for the Sheriff's Office for three years.
"I'm glad that he wasn't charged, because they went through enough with the situation they've dealt with," McBrayer said. "And we're glad that the little girl is fine. It could have been a real tragedy, and sometimes, it doesn't turn out this good for the victim."
Although McBrayer was pleased with the outcome of the case involving his deputy, he said the shooting incident should caution gun owners regarding gun safety.
"It is every adult's responsibility to make sure that they handle a gun safely, and they handle it in a ... manner where a child doesn't get their hands on it, because a child doesn't know better," said the sheriff. "Be sure that it is safely unloaded and put away."