Ga. chief who shot sleeping wife had no violent past
Agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and a local prosecutor are conducting a criminal probe
By Ray Henry
ATLANTA — The man who dialed 911 to report accidentally shooting his wife as she slept in their suburban Atlanta home early New Year’s Day waited nearly two minutes to mention where he worked.
“You’re the chief of police in Peachtree City?” the dispatcher repeated.
“Yeah, unfortunately, yes,” William McCollom said.
As soon as the bullet struck his wife, McCollom’s personal life and three-decade history in law enforcement were bound for intense scrutiny. While his wife recovers, agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and a local prosecutor are conducting a criminal probe and examining his career. He also faces an internal inquiry that could result in discipline.
McCollom has gone through four divorces, including one from Margaret McCollom, the woman he shot. It’s unclear whether William and Margaret McCollom ever remarried, though investigators refer to them as husband and wife.
None of McCollom’s divorce filings indicate he had ever been violent. His fourth wife accused him of infidelity, which he denied.
His previous wives declined to comment or could not be reached. McCollom’s phone does not accept messages and he did not respond to a note left at his home by an Associated Press reporter or a message left with a police department spokesman.
On the professional front, hundreds of pages of records from his personnel files contain no evidence of criminality, major misconduct or recklessness for the former firearms instructor who once trained a SWAT team on combat shooting.
“Everybody’s scratching their head,” said Michael Couzzo Jr., the village manager who hired McCollom as the police chief in Tequesta, Florida, in 2006. “They’re scratching their heads saying, ‘How could this have happened?’”
Investigators have not publicly speculated on what led up to the shooting.
Only a few details are known. McCollom called 911 around 4:17 a.m. and told a dispatcher his handgun fired as he moved it. McCollom also said he and his wife were sleeping.
At the hospital, Margaret McCollom told investigators she was sleeping when shot and couldn’t offer more information. The wife said she thought the shooting was an accident, GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang said.
If investigators deem the shooting an accident, a police officer might avoid criminal charges and could potentially keep his job, said Robert Verry, a longtime internal affairs investigator in New Jersey and policing instructor. He is not involved in the probe.
“It’s so premature it’s tough to tell,” Verry said. “The devil’s in the details.”
Born in northeast Wyoming, McCollom, 57, briefly served as a reserve deputy in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in late 1982, according to his resume. County officials could not immediately determine whether employment records from that period still exist.
McCollom twice married women in Wyoming, including his second wife, with whom he had three children. Both of those marriages ended in divorce.
He found a job in 1983 as a police officer in Delray Beach, Florida, where he worked for 23 years. He rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the assistant chief.
“His tactics were safe,” said Delray Beach Police Lt. Vinnie Gray, a union representative who served on the SWAT team with McCollom. “It was a shock to see what happened” in Georgia.
In 1988, as McCollom’s career accelerated, he wed Margaret. They divorced 11 years later.
The FBI investigated McCollom around 1993 over an allegation he knocked out the front teeth of a suspect arrested for battery on a police officer, McCollom said in a job application. Old booking photos showed the accuser did not have teeth prior to the arrest. McCollom said the booking photo from the arrest in question did not show any injuries.
“The facts and independent witness testimony proved the subject was lying and the investigation exonerated me after my initial interview,” McCollom wrote.
McCollom was disciplined once in 2005 after being accused of ordering a subordinate to request free hotel rooms for deputy sheriffs, according to his internal affairs file. Delray Beach Police Chief Larry Schroeder, who counseled McCollom over it, did not return messages seeking comment.
McCollom got hired as chief of the small department in Tequesta in 2006, but life drew him back to Wyoming. In early 2010, McCollom sought unpaid leave, telling colleagues he needed to care for an ailing sister and help a family construction business.
“I have an opportunity to enter the private sector as an independent contractor and have decided it is now or never,” McCollom wrote in a resignation letter.
His fourth wife filed for divorce in March 2011. Around that time, his former wife, Margaret, rejoined him in Wyoming, said the chief’s sister, Barbara Sutherland.
Sutherland said she believed the couple remarried after he took the police chief’s job in Georgia.
“The second time around, they grew up, they figured it out,” she said.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press