By Christian Boone, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Aug 8, 2018
He sat, alone, in a parked Volvo, a .22-caliber pistol pointed at his head, surrounded by suicide notes. Rick Thompson was going to end his life where it began, in rural Toombs County on a road that shares his surname.
It was a final act no one would’ve predicted for Thompson, who just 17 years ago was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. A series of setbacks, some personal, some professional, followed, but none had affected him as much as his break-up with a woman he met a few years earlier on St. Simons Island — a relationship he ended in April 2016.
But Thompson, for reasons unclear, couldn’t let go. In July 2017, his former girlfriend reported a series of of chilling incidents meant to intimidate and harass. He was charged with aggravated stalking and promised to have no further contact with the woman. For 363 days he was true to his word.
Then, a little more than two weeks ago, the woman called police and said Thompson was stalking her again, calling her on the phone then shadowing her on three separate occasions last month as she walked her dogs near her Brunswick home.
A warrant was issued for his arrest. On July 27th, acting on a tip, a Toombs County sheriff’s deputy happened upon Thompson in his Volvo. He ordered the 60-year-old lawyer to drop his weapon. Thompson eventually relented. His bond revoked, Thompson was charged with a second count of aggravated assault. He awaits trial in the Glynn County Detention Center knowing that, if convicted, he’ll be disbarred and will likely serve time in prison.
Those who know him best are still in shock over his rapid fall from grace.
“He had a lot going for him, just a regular hard-working guy,” said former U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston. Thompson managed Kingston’s first campaign for Congress in 1992, when the former Savannah insurance salesman became the first Republican since Reconstruction to win Georgia’s first district. “He had no bad habits, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke.”
Kingston’s victory opened up a world of possibilities for Thompson. The married father of two girls had an impressive resume and a Rolodex filled with GOP powerbrokers.
He dabbled in politics, making two unsuccessful bids ran for the state Legislature in the late 90s before returning to his comfort zone. Thompson became a partner at a law firm in his hometown of Vidalia, where his father had once announced high school football games, a sure sign of status in Toombs County.
But Thompson wouldn’t be home for long.
In 2001, newly elected President George W. Bush went looking for a new U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. Thompson, with his party connections, was an obvious choice.
“Anyone who labored in the Republican vineyards of the 1990s, when there weren’t many Republicans in the state, had a leg up on the competition,” Kingston said. “That’s not to say Rick didn’t deserve the job. But he was a guy who had run a winning campaign, who had a father-in-law close to (former U.S. Senator) Mack Mattingly, he was the right age, had the right energy. It just made sense.”
From the beginning, Thompson courted controversy. In 2002, Thompson re-opened an investigation into Democratic state senator Van Streat, who had been cleared of three felony corruption charges by a special prosecutor appointed by then-Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat.
“It is the most blatant political act I have witnessed,” Barnes said of Thompson’s investigation into the special prosecutor’s ties to the governor. Barnes noted that Thompson was lifelong friends with one of Streat’s Republican opponents, Tommie Williams. Thompson acknowledged he had donated money to Williams’ campaign but denied any wrongdoing.
Thompson also opened probes into House Speaker Terry Coleman and former Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, both Democrats — critics charged those moves were also politically motivated.
In 2004, after just three years on the job, Thompson submitted his resignation, citing a desire to return to private practice. The move came as a surprise to Kingston, who said he tried to change his friend’s mind. But Thompson may have seen the writing on the wall. A month later a report by the Justice Department alleged the federal prosecutor “abused his authority and violated the public trust” by opening investigations into prominent Democrats before the 2002 election.
“He was frustrated by what happened,” Kingston said. “He thought it was unjust. But I don’t think it was a life-changer. He took the licks and moved on.”
Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed Thompson chairman of the state worker’s compensation board, an area of the law he knew well. But while serving in that post, his personal life began to unravel. His marriage of 26 years ended in divorce. Thompson gravitated to St. Simons Island; a popular destination for divorcees and older singles.
She could see him, “across the water,” watching
The relationship that changed everything for Thompson lasted only one year. Attorneys for Thompson and the woman he’s accused of stalking declined to comment, but court documents provide a thorough account of the end of their relationship.
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution is not naming the woman in order to protect her privacy.
What compelled Thompson was unclear. He made no professions of love, or regret that the relationship ended, at least not in court documents detailing the alleged harassment. Perhaps the woman’s subsequent marriage to a Brunswick man set Thompson off, but he never mentioned it.
The harassment began to escalate in October 2016 when Thompson notified Donna Crossland, the alleged victim’s attorney, that her client faced arrest if she attended her daughter’s wedding at a St. Simons club. Thompson said he had told his ex-lover that he had scheduled a golf date and dinner at the same club on the same day and if she attended the wedding she’d be violating the court’s no-contact order, according to the 2017 arrest warrant. He said he wouldn’t notify police if she agreed to pay him $5,500.
On June 26, 2017, the woman alleged Thompson nearly rammed her vehicle on St. Simons. On that same day, following her into Brunswick, Thompson allegedly pulled in front of her car and blocked her vehicle from turning into the road leading to her home, the 2017 warrant alleged. Two days later, as she sat on her porch, she said she spotted Thompson watching her, from “across the water.”
Thompson spent one week in jail after his July 2017 arrest. He was released on $10,000 bond after agreeing to seek psychiatric treatment at a Florida hospital. It’s unclear whether he actually obtained treatment.
Around the same time, he resigned his partnership with the workman’s compensation firm Levy, Thompson, Sibley and Hand. For the first time in his life, Thompson was untethered, professionally and personally.
“If he rehabilitates, people will forgive”
Marietta attorney Robert Ingram said he has reached out to Thompson on two separate occasions since the 2017 arrest but his old friend never responded.
The news of Thompson’s arrest came as a shock to Ingram. “I never heard anything about him behaving like that, never observed it,” he said. “Rick was always so reasonable, so level-headed.”
With a mountain of evidence against him yet to be disputed in the stalking case, Thompson seems to face an uphill legal battle. Disbarment would be particularly devastating, according to Ingram.
“He loved practicing law,” Ingram said. “He enjoyed interacting with other lawyers. He was popular with clients. It’s just so sad.”
But this doesn’t need to be Thompson’s final chapter, Kingston said. He still has friends who want the best for him; his daughter, Kirby Thompson, attended his bond revocation hearing last week as a show of support.
“I know the good side of Rick Thompson and we as a society need bring that side back,” Kingston said. “I don’t think anyone would condone his behavior, but they know this is totally out of character. If he rehabilitates, people will forgive.”
A native Atlantan, Boone joined the AJC staff in 2007. He quickly carved out a niche covering crime stories, assuming the public safety beat in 2014. He's covered some of the biggest trials this decade, from Hemy Neuman to Ross Harris to Chip Olsen, the latter of which was featured on Season 7 of the AJC's award-winning "Breakdown" podcast.