ATLANTA — A Dalton teacher accused of firing a handgun in his classroom had three rifles taken away after setting the family car ablaze at his home two years ago, according to a sheriff's report obtained Friday by The Associated Press.
But authorities responsible for protecting his workplace — Dalton High School — say they only learned about this disturbing episode this week.
Deputies in Dade County, where social studies teacher Jesse Randal Davidson lives, took him to a hospital for a mental evaluation and seized the rifles for safe-keeping after he torched the Mitsubishi Outlander on Aug. 13, 2016.
This sheriff's report and two others from Dalton Police in Whitfield County show Davidson has been hospitalized at least three times in recent years as people worried about his state of mind.
Davidson didn't hit anyone when he allegedly fired a handgun out his classroom window at Dalton High School on Wednesday, but it caused chaos and immediate calls to abandon the idea of arming teachers as a solution to school shootings. President Donald Trump and other Republicans have endorsed arming teachers following the killings of 17 people at a Florida high school two weeks ago.
Davidson faces six charges including aggravated assault; terroristic threats and acts; and having a weapon on school property. His lawyer hasn't returned phone and email messages from the AP.
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The additional details about Davidson's past run-ins with law enforcement emerged as the school reopened Friday.
In the August 2016 incident, a deputy saw heavy smoke and flames pouring from the Mitsubishi as he pulled up to Davidson's home in Rising Fawn, Ga., the sheriff's report said. The deputy told Davidson's wife Lisa and their daughter to seek safety in his patrol car.
Davidson's adult son, Johnny, told the deputy that his father "was not acting like himself and was sitting down with a rifle in the backyard watching the vehicle on fire."
Johnny Davidson was eventually able to talk his father into giving up the gun, described in the report as a Russia 7.62 rifle. No injuries were reported. Two other weapons — described as an Ithaca .22-caliber rifle and a Savage 7 mag rifle — also were seized.
Dade County Sheriff's Sgt. Chad Payne told the Times Free Press on Friday that officers later turned over the rifles to Davidson's wife.
"Mr. Davidson wasn't charged with a crime, so we had no authority to permanently seize them," Payne said in a statement. "There were reasons we couldn't charge him with arson for the car, but I can't go into those."
In March 2016, Davison told Dalton police he accidentally arranged to have a woman killed, according to an incident report obtained by the Times Free Press. He said he had an affair with his son's girlfriend and she had become pregnant with twins.
He said the woman seemed to be an abusive mother. He complained to his friends about her, and they promised to "take care" of her. He believed they killed her. But investigators could not find any evidence this woman existed. According to the report, Davidson said he took several medications for depression and had just gotten out of the hospital.
"We never found any reason to believe she existed or that any of it ever happened," Dalton Police Department spokesman Bruce Frazier told the Times Free Press on Wednesday night.
Dalton City Schools spokeswoman Pat Holloway said Friday that school district officials had been made aware of the March 2016 incident but confirmed they didn't know about the run-in involving the car fire until this week.
In January 2017, school employees and a police officer began searching Dalton High after Davidson went missing. He was finally found sitting on the curb along a street a few blocks from the campus, being propped up by two school staff members, police said.
Dalton police informed school officials after they investigated the rambling story at the police station, but spokesman Bruce Frazier said police investigators only became aware of the burning car situation this week.
The family has faced financial hardship in recent years, federal court records show.
Davidson's wife told the sheriff's deputy who arrived to find the Mitsubishi engulfed in flames that the couple had argued that morning about money, a few hours before the car was burned. They'd filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in late 2015. As part of that case, the Dalton teacher listed six rifles and one shotgun on a list of assets he owned.
School officials say they can't talk about mental health issues of specific staff members. But Dalton High Principal Steve Bartoo told reporters that "as far as I know, he was fit to be at work."
"We don't allow anyone in a classroom unless they are capable of doing their job and fit for their position," Holloway said.