Part I: Ray Cleere Seizes an Opportunity
This is the story of Richard Jewell, the hero who saved countless lives, and of Ray Cleere, the first of many heels who sought to railroad him for another man’s crime.
Richard Jewell, 33, a former law enforcement officer, fits the profile of the lone bomber.
Atlanta Journal Constitution, July 30, 1996.
I hope and pray that no one else is ever subjected to the pain and the ordeal that I have gone through. The authorities should keep in mind the rights of the citizens. I thank God it is ended and that you now know what I have known all along: I am an innocent man.
Richard Jewell, at his press conference after being exonerated, October 28, 1996.
When people think of heroes, they typically think of big men, and laugh at little guys. And while in seeking to subdue a violent character without recourse to a deadly weapon, bigger, as a rule, is better, there is no correlation between physical strength and physical courage.
For instance, I’m fond of the late John Wayne, who was the most popular actor in screen history. And yet, when World War II came, the 6’4 ½” Wayne got himself a deferment from the draft, and stayed home. Meanwhile, America’s most decorated soldier was 5’5,” 110 lb. Audie Murphy, who was initially rejected by the Marines and elite airborne (paratrooper) units as too short and scrawny.
Forty-four-year-old Richard Jewell, whose wife of six years, Dana, found him dead of a heart attack in their Georgia home on Wednesday, August 29, was barely taller than Murphy. Unlike Murphy, however, Jewell was fat. Aside perhaps from his mother, Bobi (Barbara) – when the public first heard of him, he had no wife or girlfriend – no one thought of heroes when they looked at Richard Jewell. And yet, being a hero was his dream ... and his legacy.
July 26, 1996
On the evening of July 26, 1996, Richard Jewell was in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park during the Olympics – the worst place in the world for an unsuspecting victim; the best place for a hero. Stationed at the AT&T pavilion as a security guard working for the security firm Anthony Davis Associates (like so many firms, AT&T subcontracted out security), at some point after 12:30 a.m., Jewell spotted a large, military-style green knapsack, an “Alice pack” someone had left under a bench near the main stage.
Thousands of people from all over the world were milling about in the park, which functioned as the Olympics’ village square. Hundreds were in the immediate vicinity of the pack, which was placed near the stage where, at 12:45 a.m., the band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack would begin its performance.
Jewell immediately called in his discovery to Tom Davis of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), and to his immediate supervisor, Bob Ahring. Davis arrived and asked everyone nearby whether the pack was theirs. When no one claimed it, the matter became suspicious, and Davis and Jewell immediately cleared a 25-foot-square parameter around the pack, in spite of a crowd, more than a few of whom were drunk, and feeling less than cooperative.
The Atlanta Police Department:
The Following Section is Not a Parody
At 12:58:45 a.m., a man called in to an Atlanta Police Department (APD) 911 operator, “There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have 30 minutes,” and hung up, without identifying himself.
Police were then delayed for ten critical minutes, because none of the operators at the 911 center or the police dispatchers they contacted at the APD’s Zone 5 knew the address, the operators and dispatchers assumed that their supervisors did not know and did not want to ask them, yet were concerned with passing the buck on the responsibility for determining the location of a bomb threat. The operator who answered at the APD’s Agency Command Center (ACC) also had no idea where Centennial Olympic Park is, and thought it ridiculous that anyone should expect her to know it. None of the operators and dispatchers even considered the matter of a bomb threat urgent. (I have previously written on incompetence in Atlanta law enforcement here and here.)
Dispatcher: "Zone 5."
911 Operator: "You know the address to Centennial Olympic Park?"
Dispatcher: "Girl, don't ask me to lie to you."
911 Operator: "I tried to call ACC but ain't nobody answering the phone ... but I just got this man called talking about there's a bomb set to go off in 30 minutes in Centennial Park."
Dispatcher: "Oh Lord, child. One minute, one minute. I copy Code 17. OK, all DUI units are Code 8 and will not be able to assist on the freeway. Oh Lord, child. Uh, OK, wait a minute, Centennial Park, you put it in and it won't go in?"
911 Operator: "No, unless I'm spelling Centennial wrong. How are we spelling Centennial?"
Dispatcher: "C-E-N-T-E-N-N-I -- how do you spell Centennial?"
911 Operator: "I'm spelling it right, it ain't taking."
911 Operator: "Centennial Park is not going. Maybe if I take 'park' out, maybe that will take. Let me try that."
Dispatcher: "Wait a minute, that's the regular Olympic Stadium right?"
911 Operator: "Olympic Stadium is like Zone 3, though. Centennial Park."
Dispatcher: "That's the Centennial Park?"
911 Operator: "It's near the Coca Cola Plaza, I think."
Dispatcher: "In 5?"
911 Operator: "Uh huh."
Dispatcher: "Uh, hold on. Sonya, you don't know the address to the Centennial Park?"
2nd Dispatcher (in background): "Downtown."
911 Operator: "Male, about 30."
Dispatcher: "1546, Code 17, 23."
911 Operator: "White."
Dispatcher: "Uh, you know what? Ask one of the supervisors."
911 Operator: "No, Lord help me, you know they don't know."
Dispatcher: "I know, but it gets it off you."
911 Operator: "Alrighty then, bye."
911 operator calls APD ACC for address (telephone line problem; operators cannot hear each other.) ...
911 operator calls APD ACC again and requests address for Centennial Park and is given the telephone number.
ACC: "Atlanta Police, Agency Command Center."
911 Operator: "Hey, can you hear me now?"
ACC: "Uh huh."
911 Operator: "OK, can you give me the address of the Centennial Park?"
ACC: "I ain't got no address to Centennial Park, what y'all think I am?"
911 Operator: "Can you help me find the address to Centennial Park?"
ACC: "I can give you the telephone number of Centennial Park."
911 Operator: "I need to get this bomb threat over there to y'all."
911 Operator: "But I need the address of Centennial Park. It's not taking, the system is not taking Centennial Park, that's not where it came from, but you know the system is not taking Centennial Park, that's where he said the bomb was."
ACC: "No particular street or what?"
911 Operator: "He just said there's a bomb set to go off in 30 minutes in Centennial Park."
ACC: "Ooh, it's going to be gone off by the time we find the address."
911 Operator: "Are you kiddin'? Give me that, give me that."
ACC: "I mean I don't have an address, I just have phone numbers."
911 Operator: "Give me the phone number." ...
911 operator calls Centennial Park for street address and is placed on hold. Receives address at 1:07:10 a.m.
Centennial Park: "Centennial Park, this is Operator Morgan."
911 Operator: "Hi, can you give me the address to Centennial Park?"
Cen Park: "The address?"
911 Operator: "Uh huh."
Cen Park: "Uh, hold on a second."
911 operator notifies Communications Supervisor, Sgt. Montgomery.
911 Operator: "Does anybody -- Sgt. Montgomery, do you know the address of Centennial Park? Do you know the address to Centennial Park. Well, I need to get the address of Centennial Park 'cause, I mean I don't mean to upset nobody, but we got a bomb threat over there."
(Editor's note: The transcript does not further indicate whether this comment about a bomb threat was directed only to Sgt. Montgomery in the 911 center or to Centennial Park's Operator Morgan, who is shown to come back on the line just after the comment.)
Cen Park: "Ma'am."
911 Operator: "Yes."
Cen Park: "OK, it's 145 International Boulevard."
911 Operator: "145 International Boulevard."
Cen Park: "Uh huh."
911 Operator: "OK."
Cen Park: "All right, uh huh."
911 Operator: "Thank you. Bye bye."
911 operator sent call to dispatch.
Dispatcher: "1591. Radio raising 1594."
Unit 1594: "1594. You call?"
Dispatcher: "1594, that's affirmative, got a Signal 73 at 145 International Boulevard. It came from the pay phone at the Days Inn. The caller is advising that he has one set to go off in 30 minutes at Centennial Park. Sounded like a white male."
(Editor's note: The same information is then given to Unit 1593 and the Dispatcher calls Unit1546.)
Dispatcher: "Did you copy?"
Unit 1546: "1546. I copy. Advise the state police, they police that park. I'll go the Days Inn and see if I can locate the caller."
Dispatcher: "OK, that's affirmative."
(Editor's note: There are sporadic entries over the next seven minutes. Another officer, designated Unit 1593, also instructs the Dispatcher at 1:18:50 a.m. to "contact the state police supervisor." The transcript contains no indication, however, that state police were notified.)
Unit 2924: "2924 to Radio, be advised that something just blew up at Olympic Park." ------------------------------
Mind you, at the time, all Atlanta revolved around the Olympics, whose social center the park was.
At 1:19 a.m., 20 minutes after the initial 911 call, but only 10 minutes after the APD figured out where Centennial Olympic Park is, and eight minutes after an APD dispatcher finally told a squad car the 911 message and the park’s address – i.e., an inexcusable 12 minute delay – the pipe bomb inside the knapsack exploded. But since the one officer whose response is reprinted in the “excerpted” transcript (which CNN, while retaining many other articles from the time, has inexplicably since deleted from its Web site), found an excuse to avoid going to the park altogether, the APD proved utterly useless.
The bomb turned the bench above it into a deadly weapon, and the metal shrapnel – nails and screws – that the bomber had filled the pack with flew out. The attack directly killed one person and wounded 111, some permanently. Forty-four year-old Alice Hawthorne, of Albany, Ga., who was in Atlanta with her stepdaughter for the Olympics, was killed directly by the explosion. Melih Uzunyol, the chief cameraman for Turkish Television, ran to cover the scene, and suffered a fatal heart attack. Uzunyol, a mere 38 or 40, depending on the source, had survived wars as a photographer, but fell to his own heart condition.
Had Richard Jewell not already begun clearing the area, the death toll might have been anywhere from dozens to hundreds, with a thousand or more wounded. Thanks to him, we’ll never know.
The bombing was an act of domestic terrorism, but who was the terrorist? And coming only nine days after the TWA Flight 800 was blown out of the air in the waters off Long Island, killing all 230 souls aboard, people had to wonder if the attacks were connected.
For two days, Jewell enjoyed some well-deserved fame. Then his world would be turned upside down.
Whispers and Shouts: Ray Cleere
The Habersham County Sheriff’s Office had hired Richard Jewell as a jailer in 1990, and promoted him to deputy the following year. Marie Brenner reports that “he finished in the upper 25 percent of his class” at the Northeast Georgia Police Academy. (Brenner’s 19,000-word tour de force, “American Nightmare: the Ballad of Richard Jewell,” appeared in the February 1997 Vanity Fair.)
While he was still a jailer, Jewell once arrested two neighbors for making too much noise in a hot tub, and was charged with impersonating a police officer. The charges were reduced, and he was sentenced to probation and counseling.
Jewell was wound a little tight. And yet, he was known for having a playful sense of humor, and he was also extremely polite. In other words, he was a man, not a profile.
In 1995, Jewell wrecked his department vehicle, and was demoted back to jailer; he resigned, rather than take the demotion. Then he worked a year as a campus policeman at little Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia, a predominantly Baptist private school that specialized in serving spoiled, often rebellious “‘P.K.’s’–preachers’ kids.” Jewell’s year at Piedmont had some highlights – catching a suspected burglar, helping effect a number of other arrests, and “For his work on a volunteer rescue squad, he was named a citizen of the year.” (Marie Brenner) But following frequent complaints by students outraged that he was interfering with their on-campus illegal drinking (which interference was one of his main job responsibilities, as the school strictly forbade drinking on campus), on May 21, 1996, Jewell resigned.
The 33-year-old went to Atlanta to get a fresh start, bunking at his mother’s place until he got a solid position. He hoped the security job at the Olympics would serve as a resume builder.
According to Marie Brenner, on June 27, when Piedmont College President Ray Cleere learned from the TV news that Richard Jewell had heroically saved untold lives and achieved renown, Cleere immediately phoned in a “tip” to the FBI Hot Line, thereby ruining Jewell’s life. Three months later, after the smoke had cleared, Time’s James Collins wrote about Cleere’s role.
The first specific tip about Jewell came on July 27, the day of the bombing, in a phone call from Ray Cleere, the president of Piedmont College in Georgia, where Jewell had worked as a security guard until last May. Cleere said he had seen Jewell on television being acclaimed as a hero. Cleere wanted to tell the FBI that Jewell had been “a little erratic,” “almost too excitable” and too gung-ho about “energetic police work.”
We don’t know all of what Cleere told the FBI about Jewell, but from what we do know, the signals he sent were unmistakable: ‘If you want to catch the bomber, look no further than your “hero.”’ After all, why else would one call the FBI, full of “concern” that a presumed hero was into overly “energetic police work”?
According to Marie Brenner, Cleere, formerly the Mississippi commissioner of higher education, felt that Piedmont College, a small, relatively obscure, rural school was a come-down.
Cleere is also image-obsessed, and apparently wanted to have a campus police force, but didn’t want it to do anything much, and said as much to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in a story by the late Kathy Scruggs and Ron Martz, Maria Elena Fernandez, and Kent E. Walker, that appeared in the July 31, 1996 edition.
Piedmont College President Ray Cleere said when he saw Jewell on CNN he contacted the GBI “because we felt he should be checked.”
“His behavior here had been a little erratic,” Cleere said. “He had been very sporadic and we felt he needed to be checked out further.”
Describing Jewell as “almost too excitable,” Cleere said they were worried that he would not fit in on a small college campus. “We’re not really a police department. We're more of a public safety department, and Mr. Jewell is definitely interested in police work and investigative work.”
Jewell was certainly action and duty-oriented, and interested in serious police work. Cleere was right about those aspects, but those are virtues in police work, not red flags. What the hell do they have to do with being a terrorist? And why, if Jewell left an environment where he did not fit in for one in which he did, would he need to be “checked out further”? Cleere couldn’t even keep his rationalizations straight.
In Ray Cleere, we have a titled man who could not stand for a man without title, over whom he had once held power, to enjoy even a moment in the sun. Cleere felt he could hound Jewell, even after the latter had left the former’s orbit.
Marie Brenner’s account provides much of the backstory on Cleere and Piedmont. It seems that Piedmont students constantly complained to the administration about Jewell, as well as his colleagues, and when Jewell busted a student for smoking pot, Jewell wanted the boy arrested, but Cleere overruled him. Campus police chief Dick Martin “was fond of Jewell,” yet Jewell was “admonished” a number of times for controversial arrests, and the pot bust was a real sore point between Cleere and Jewell, and a major reason or the reason Jewell resigned.
Brenner reports that Jewell’s attorney, Lin Wood, claimed that Dick Martin got Cleere to agree to a “compromise,” whereby Martin would call a friend in the GBI, but that Cleere welshed, and went ahead and called the FBI. Perhaps Cleere was bitter that he had not had the opportunity to fire and thus harm Jewell, and saw in calling the FBI another chance to make things wrong.
Brenner suggests that Cleere was jealous of Jewell’s sudden fame, writing, “According to [Brad] Mattear, ‘Cleere loved the limelight. He wanted public attention’–the very trait he reportedly ascribed to Richard Jewell.” (Brad Mattear was a former resident director at Piedmont.)
According to one report, Cleere “provided a sworn statement saying he had been misquoted.” The aforementioned report stated, “If this were the case, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution would be at fault.”
But what about Marie Brenner? She didn’t just echo what the Journal-Constitution printed. She talked to people at Piedmont College, as well as to former employees, and her story – by the far the most thoroughly researched, most insightful, and best written on the Jewell case that I’ve so far seen – has never been discredited. And if Cleere didn’t want the FBI to hang the bombing rap on Jewell, what was he doing calling the Bureau in the first place – to get a weather report?
Ray Cleere’s vindictiveness had a half-life beyond even his wild insinuations. When the FBI went to Piedmont, they came away with a new theory: That Richard Jewell was a homicidal homosexual who hated police, sought to murder them, and whose lover had made the 911 call. Brenner speculates that this nonsense was started as revenge by the Piedmont student whom Jewell had busted for smoking pot, and a couple of the pot-smoker’s friends. FBI agents wasted weeks trying to make the “homicidal homosexual” theory work, but the task proved too much even for their lurid imaginations.
For Richard Jewell, the year spent at Piedmont College proved to be the gift that kept on giving.
In Part II: The FBI vs. Richard Jewell.