DALTON, Ga. — Authorities said mental health treatment was an important consideration in plea negotiations with a North Georgia teacher who barricaded himself inside his classroom in February and firing a handgun.
Randal Davidson apologized in court Tuesday for his role in causing panic at Dalton High School and pleaded guilty to causing damage to property, carrying a gun on campus and disrupting school operations, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen.
Davidson was sentenced to two years in prison followed by eight years on probation, the newspaper reported.
No one was seriously hurt, but the Feb. 28 incident forced evacuations and sent panicked students running through the halls. One student suffered an ankle injury in the commotion.
His attorney, Richard Murray, said Davidson, 53, came to school that day intending to kill himself “in the place he felt loved,” the Daily Citizen reported.
“He did not mean to hurt those kids,” Murray told a judge Tuesday. “But he was so absorbed in his own depression and his own mental illness that he just wasn't considering them. Yes, he is responsible for his actions, but there are mitigating factors."
A history of mental illness, severe financial pressure and the recent death of his father contributed to Davidson’s plans, Murray said.
Davidson had previously been hospitalized three times after authorities responded to calls about worrisome behavior, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. School officials were aware of those incidents and "were confident that Mr. Davidson was fit," a spokesman for the district told The AJC.
Investigators believe Davidson’s goal that day was likely to be killed by police, “an act sometimes described as ‘suicide by cop,’” District Attorney Bert Poston said in a statement obtained by the Daily Citizen.
Poston said he met with staff, faculty and parents at the Dalton High, about 91 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta, before deciding on the terms of the plea deal.
"The consensus of that group was that two years in prison would be appropriate," he said in the statement. "We did want him to serve some time in prison, but we also thought it was important for him to get out and get mental health treatment."
The February incident unnerved a community already on edge in the wake of a mass shooting at a Florida high school earlier that month.
School officials were first notified that morning when some students tried to get into Davidson’s classroom and he would not let them in, Dalton police spokesman Bruce Frazier said.
The students told principal Steve Bartoo. When he came to the door and used his key to try to open it, Davidson forcibly closed it on him, Frazier said. The principal then heard a gunshot.
The bullet went through a window and outside. After about 30 to 45 minutes, authorities got Davidson to surrender.
Under the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop charges of aggravated assault and possession of a weapon.
Davidson can’t have contact with current Dalton High students and he won’t be allowed on school property as conditions of his sentence, the Daily Citizen reported.
Cox Media Group