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Intoxicated on roadside, ex-drug chief shoots self accidentally, sheriff says

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com 340-2355

The former head of the Morgan County Drug Task Force accidentally shot himself late Wednesday, said Sheriff Greg Bartlett.

Bartlett said George Rutherford, who is currently on sick leave, was armed and apparently intoxicated as he walked along the side of Alabama 36 with his 8-year-old daughter.

The Sheriff's Department dispatched a deputy to check out a 9:20 p.m. 911 call about a man and child walking on the highway between Antioch Road and Alabama 67.

Rutherford apparently had the .357 handgun out when the officer drove up, climbed out of his patrol car and heard a gunshot.

"Putting the gun back in his pants, he accidentally shot himself in the leg," Bartlett said.

Bartlett said the injury to Rutherford's lower leg caused him to immediately pitch over on the ground.

No other shots were fired.

Rutherford was transported to the parking lot of Shiloh Church, but he refused to be flown to the hospital by medical helicopter. An ambulance took him to Huntsville Hospital, where he remained in fair condition on the orthopedics floor Thursday.

"It's a real unpleasant situation," said Bartlett. "It's just one of those things you would hate to have happen in your own family."

Bartlett said he took disciplinary action against Rutherford in March following an investigation into harassment reports filed by Rutherford's brother and estranged wife.

Bartlett removed Rutherford, a lieutenant, from his post as head of the drug task force, but Rutherford's pay remains the same, $20.38 an hour. Rutherford is using his accumulated sick time to receive pay during his absence.

Chief Deputy Mike Corley said a counselor was evaluating Rutherford and would give the department notice when he was fit to return to work. At that point, Rutherford would be expected to report to the criminal investigations division at the rank of sergeant.

Rutherford went on sick leave March 15 and remains on it. From March 19 to 23, he was on leave without pay, according to payroll records.

Rutherford started working for the department as a jailer in April 1991.

Now, an internal investigation into Wednesday's incident could lead to further disciplinary action. A hearing will be held immediately following Rutherford's release from the hospital.

"We don't anticipate any kind of criminal arrest, misdemeanor or felony," Corley said. "Now, as far as departmental policy, that is being looked at."

"It remains to be seen even if he was under the influence. I think the indication was that he was. But we were there with an injured person and we weren't doing a field (sobriety) test. We were investigating, and he was under the care of emergency medical services," Corley said.

The department will subpoena toxicology results from the hospital, he said.

Investigators recovered the pistol Rutherford shot himself with and confirmed it was not a service weapon, Corley said. No other weapons or contraband were collected at the scene.

Corley said Rutherford told investigators he was walking because his truck failed to start.

Staff writer Sheryl Marsh contributed to this story.

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