MACON, Ga. — It happened March 24.
'It' is what former Bibb Sheriff's Office Sgt. Omar Sanders calls 'failure': when a pregnant 14-year-old girl was left in a locked interview room overnight. Sanders lost his job over the incident.
According to an internal affairs report from the sheriff's office, the young woman was left in interview room 4 for about 21 hours. She did not eat. She did not have access to a bathroom. She had no phone to call home, her lawyer says.
"I don't respect none of this. And I don't deserve none of this," the girl's mother said the next day in an interview with Investigator Brannon Grace.
We're not identifying the girl or her mother because of the girl's age. Her attorney, John Fleming, says nobody checked on her.
"She was yelling out for help. She was knocking on the door," he said.
"I ain't get checked up on. I was talking to the camera thing. I don't know if it was on. I would ask them, 'Could I call my mama again?'" the girl said in her interview with Investigator Grace.
Major Chris Patterson heads the investigations division at the sheriff's office.
"Apparently the 14-year-old was brought in [as] a witness, and was just inadvertently left in the room," Patterson said.
The report shows deputies brought the girl in around 10 a.m. March 24 as a potential murder witness. Sgt. Sanders was in charge of the investigation.
"I was in the office about 30 minutes before I made contact with anyone. Pretty much just getting my bearings," he recalled.
When Sanders walked into the observation room, he looked at the surveillance feed. He saw the girl in room 4, and her boyfriend in the next room. Sanders says another deputy took the girl to his office.
"I wasn't preparing to interview her," Sanders said.
He realized the girl didn't have anything to do with the case. Then, called her mother and grandmother. He couldn't reach them.
"After that, I said, 'Hey lieutenant. You can go ahead and take her back. I'm going to go interview Stephens,'" Sanders told Investigator Grace.
Stephens is the girl's boyfriend, who they arrested that day. He's locked up now on drug and simple battery charges. Sanders said he interviewed Stephens around 'noon or 1.' Meanwhile, the girl went back to interview room 4, and stayed there. The door was shut.
"The door is not, should not be closed. And I have reiterated that if they're a witness, the door will not be closed because they're there voluntarily. They can get up and leave any time they want," Major Patterson said.
The internal affairs report shows the door was also locked. Sanders says he only spoke to the girl in his office. He says he's not sure how the door got locked when she went back to the room, but that it's easy to lock someone in accidentally.
"Almost every investigator has been locked in that room. Because someone actually goes past. Or when you go to open the door, you actually press that lock and now you're locked on the inside," Sanders said.
The girl said she took a nap to help the time pass.
"I stayed there. I kept waking up. I'm knocking on the door. I'm hearing voices. And I'm hearing the copy machine on. I'm thinking 'Why hasn't anyone come to the door yet?'" she told Investigator Grace.
"The investigation revealed several different people noticed that she was there, heard she was there, mentioned it to other people," Fleming said. "Nobody took any appropriate action to make sure that she was taken care of, cleared and released."
Sanders says he told other investigators several times the girl was free to go. When he left sometime around 5:50 p.m., other investigators were watching the camera feed, he says.
The girl was still in room 4.
"That young lady was failed that day. But it wasn't by Investigator Sgt. Sanders. It was by Bibb County Sheriff's Office and other supervisors and other investigators in that building," Sanders said.
After 21 hours, she threw a chair at the door and tore pieces of wood from it bit by bit to create a hole. Security camera video shows her walking through the investigations office parking lot around 7 a.m. Then, she walked almost three miles to her aunt's house.
"If she gets out of that room, if she's sitting in the lobby, if the door is open, if she's taken home, this never happens," Sanders said.
Fleming says the experience left the girl shaken.
"She was very terrified, afraid to leave the home, afraid to sleep outside the bed with her mother," Fleming said.
Now, he says, they're focused on the future.
"We plan to file a lawsuit and continue to conduct discovery while my client gets the treatment that she needs," Fleming said.
Sgt. Sanders is fighting for his job back. He says he was never in charge of watching the girl, and says the duty fell on other deputies. Sanders says he thinks he's the 'fall guy.'
According to the report, other deputies say they never heard Sanders ask anyone to take the girl home. In her interview, Capt. Shelly Rutherford told Investigator Grace that Sgt. Sanders said the girl was his responsibility, since it was his investigation.
The girl's family did not feel comfortable speaking with us directly about this story, and the Bibb Sheriff's Office would not comment on the specifics of the case.
They say it's an ongoing investigation now that Sanders has filed an appeal to have his termination reversed.