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Atlanta Cops Admit Manhunt Errors

The city's embattled police department acknowledged Friday that it made mistakes just after last week's deadly courthouse rampage, and the chief revealed that the suspect spent as many as 12 hours undetected outside a busy mall.

Police Chief Richard Pennington said he will oversee a top-to-bottom review of his department's response to the attacks, communication problems between agencies, and their ill-fated focus on finding a stolen car that later turned up in the same parking garage from where it was stolen.

"We should have gone through the entire building," Pennington said at a City Hall news conference about the downtown parking garage where suspect Brian Nichols allegedly carjacked a reporter after the shootings. "We didn't, based on the information we had at the time."

Mayor Shirley Franklin said Friday it was important to review city protocols for responding to major crimes like the courthouse shooting and aftermath. But she also reminded people of the chaotic situation.

"We have nothing to hide," Franklin said. "We come to you as a city ... recognizing that there are opportunities for improvements."

Officials say that while 33-year-old Nichols was in Fulton County court last Friday for his rape trial, he attacked a deputy, stole her keys and retrieved her gun from a lock box, then moved on to the courtroom and killed the judge and a court reporter. Authorities later say he murdered a deputy and a federal agent before surrendering.

While acknowledging missteps in the pursuit of Nichols, Pennington said during a lengthy interview with The Associated Press following the news conference that Nichols was able to elude capture for so long because of his inconspicuous behavior.

Pennington told AP that Nichols hopped a subway train from downtown shortly after the shootings and rode north about 7 miles, to the Lenox Square Mall stop. Wearing a jacket he had allegedly stolen during the carjacking, he spent much of the day milling about in the streets around the mall. He did not apparently enter the mall, the chief said.

Authorities believe Nichols ate at some point, based on the investigation and his statements to police, but police were still trying to determine where, Pennington said.

Nichols didn't surface until about 10 p.m., about 13 hours after the shooting, when officers received a report of a couple assaulted near the Lenox Square train station by a man matching Nichols' description. The man had brandished a gun and demanded money or a vehicle before striking one of them in the head with the weapon and fleeing.

About 30 minutes later, Nichols walked through the open door of off-duty federal agent David Wilhelm's new home a short distance away in an effort to steal his car, Pennington said. After a short period, Nichols shot the agent and stole his car. Pennington told AP that before the shooting Nichols either saw the agent's badge or was told by Wilhelm that he was an agent.

"I think he was trying to get a vehicle," Pennington said. "I don't think he went in there and just shot the guy."

Nichols was arrested the following day in an apartment complex near a highway in Gwinnett County after a woman who he allegedly had held hostage was allowed to leave and she called police.
By Harry R. Weber