Dalton teacher was involved in prior rifle incident, authorities say

The Dalton teacher accused of firing a handgun in his classroom this week had previously been hospitalized three times after authorities responded to calls about worrisome behavior.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has already reported two of those prior incidents, both of which occurred in Dalton where Jesse Randal Davidson taught social studies at the local high school. But On Friday, another law enforcement agency in a different county revealed a third incident involving a firearm and a burning car, an event that was so bizarre that it led authorities to take Davidson’s rifles “for safe keeping.”

No one was harmed Wednesday when the handgun went off at Dalton High School, except for an ankle injury when students were rushing out the doors. Davidson reportedly had barricaded himself in his classroom and fired through a window.

He faces six charges, including aggravated assault, terroristic threats and acts and possessing a weapon on school property. His lawyer hasn’t returned a call for comment.

President Donald Trump and other Republicans reacted to the killing of 17 people at a Florida high school two weeks ago by saying teachers should be armed, but the behavior of the teacher in Dalton led to further calls to abandon that idea.

School officials said they couldn’t discuss Davidson’s medical history, but said they followed state regulations to ensure all teachers recently hospitalized or who have medical issues have been approved to be in school.

The recently-revealed incident occurred on Aug. 13, 2016, at Davidson’s home. He’d called the local authorities to say he’d set his car on fire. The dispatcher told the responding deputy that it “could be a suicide due to hearing the caller sound unstable,” according to the incident report by the Dade County Sheriff’s Office.

The deputy arrived to find a 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander engulfed in flames, with Davidson’s daughter nearby. She told him her dad had a rifle, so the deputy drove her and her mother, who had just pulled into the driveway, away in his cruiser.

The deputy returned on foot with other officers to find that Davidson’s son had coaxed a Russian bolt action rifle from his father’s hands.

“Johnny advised his dad was not acting like himself and was sitting down with a rifle in the back yard watching the vehicle on fire,” the officer wrote.

The rifle was unloaded when the deputy retrieved it.

The teacher’s wife said she and her husband had argued about money that morning and that he’d texted her later to say he was going to prison. She gave the deputies two more of her husband’s rifles, a .22-caliber Ithaca and a Savage 7mm Magnum.

The deputies took him to a hospital “for mental evaluation.”

Earlier that year, in March, police in Dalton took him to the hospital after another bizarre incident. He told them he wanted to confess to tangential involvement in a killing, but they couldn’t confirm any of the details of his story, including the existence of the alleged victim. Police concluded he may have been “delusional or have something else that had occurred that is causing him to have these thoughts,” the incident report says. Davidson told the officers he was using medication for depression, and they took him to the hospital because he was “thinking about harming himself.”

A year later, in January 2017, he told a supervisor he felt ill and left the school. Police were called and a search ensued because he hadn’t driven to work that day and had called his son to pick him up, but he was gone when the son arrived, the Dalton police report said. He was found at a nearby intersection, in no obvious physical distress yet incommunicative: “No amount of stimulus would draw a response from him,” the officer wrote in the report. An ambulance took Davidson to the hospital.

The earlier incident involving the burning car at his home revealed that those closest to him were worried about him.

In addition to the concerns expressed by the wife and son, Davidson’s daughter told a deputy that when she saw her dad going in and out of the house with the rifle while his car burned, “she could tell something was wrong with her dad.”