Richard Allensworth Jewell (born Richard White; December 17, 1962 – August 29, 2007) was an American security guard and police officer famous for his role in the events surrounding the Centennial Olympic Park bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. While working as a security guard for AT&T, in connection with the Olympics, he discovered a backpack containing three pipe bombs on the park grounds. Jewell alerted police and helped evacuate the area before the bomb exploded, saving many people from injury or death. Initially hailed by the media as a hero, Jewell was later considered a suspect, before ultimately being cleared.
Despite never being charged, he underwent a "trial by media", which took a toll on his personal and professional life. Jewell was eventually exonerated, and Eric Rudolph was later found to have been the bomber. In 2006, Governor Sonny Perdue publicly thanked Jewell on behalf of the State of Georgia for saving the lives of people at the Olympics. Jewell died on August 29, 2007, at age 44 due to heart failure from complications of diabetes.
Jewell was born Richard White in Danville, Virginia, the son of Bobi, an insurance claims coordinator, and Robert Earl White, who worked for Chevrolet. Richard's birth-parents divorced when he was four. When his mother remarried to John Jewell, an insurance executive, his stepfather adopted him.
Olympic Bombing Accusation
Centennial Olympic Park was designed as the "town square" of the Olympics, and thousands of spectators had gathered for a late concert and merrymaking. Sometime after midnight, July 27, 1996, Eric Robert Rudolph, a terrorist who would later bomb a lesbian nightclub and two abortion clinics, planted a green backpack containing a fragmentation-laden pipe bomb under a bench. Jewell was working as a security guard for the event. He discovered the bag and alerted Georgia Bureau of Investigation officers. This discovery was nine minutes before Rudolph called 9-1-1 to deliver a warning. During a Jack Mack and the Heart Attack performance, Jewell and other security guards began clearing the immediate area so that a bomb squad could investigate the suspicious package. The bomb exploded 13 minutes later, killing Alice Hawthorne and injuring over one hundred others. A cameraman also died of a heart attack while running to cover the incident.
Investigation and the media
Early news reports lauded Jewell as a hero for helping to evacuate the area after he spotted the suspicious package. Three days later, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that the FBI was treating him as a possible suspect, based largely on a "lone bomber" criminal profile. For the next several weeks, the news media focused aggressively on him as the presumed culprit, labeling him with the ambiguous term "person of interest", sifting through his life to match a leaked "lone bomber" profile that the FBI had used. The media, to varying degrees, portrayed Jewell as a failed law enforcement officer who may have planted the bomb so he could "find" it and be a hero.
A Justice Department investigation of the FBI's conduct found the FBI had tried to manipulate Jewell into waiving his constitutional rights by telling him he was taking part in a training film about bomb detection, although the report concluded "no intentional violation of Mr. Jewell's civil rights and no criminal misconduct" had taken place.
Jewell was never officially charged, but the FBI thoroughly and publicly searched his home twice, questioned his associates, investigated his background, and maintained 24-hour surveillance of him. The pressure began to ease only after Jewell's attorneys hired an ex-FBI agent to administer a polygraph, which Jewell passed.
On October 26, 1996, the investigating US Attorney, Kent Alexander, in an extremely unusual act, sent Jewell a letter formally clearing him, stating "based on the evidence developed to date ... Richard Jewell is not considered a target of the federal criminal investigation into the bombing on July 27, 1996, at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta".
After his exoneration, Jewell filed lawsuits against the media outlets which he said had libeled him, primarily NBC News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and insisted on a formal apology from them.
In 2006, Jewell said the lawsuits were not about money, and that the vast majority of the settlements went to lawyers or taxes. He said the lawsuits were about clearing his name.
Richard Jewell v. Piedmont College
Jewell filed suit against his former employer Piedmont College, Piedmont College President Raymond Cleere and college spokesman Scott Rawles. Jewell's attorneys contended that Cleere called the FBI and spoke to the Atlanta newspapers, providing them with false information on Jewell and his employment there as a security guard. Jewell's lawsuit accused Cleere of describing Jewell as a "badge-wearing zealot" who "would write epic police reports for minor infractions".
Piedmont College settled for an undisclosed amount.
Richard Jewell v. NBC
Jewell sued NBC News for this statement, made by Tom Brokaw, "The speculation is that the FBI is close to making the case. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case." Even though NBC stood by its story, the network agreed to pay Jewell $500,000.
Richard Jewell v. New York Post
On July 23, 1997, Jewell sued the New York Post for $15 million in damages, contending that the paper portrayed him in articles, photographs and an editorial cartoon as an "aberrant" person with a "bizarre employment history" who was probably guilty of the bombing. He eventually settled with the newspaper for an undisclosed amount.
Richard Jewell v. Cox Enterprises (d.b.a. Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Jewell also sued the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper because, according to Jewell, the paper's headline ("FBI suspects 'hero' guard may have planted bomb") "pretty much started the whirlwind". In one article, the Atlanta Journal compared Richard Jewell's case to that of serial killer Wayne Williams.
The newspaper was the only defendant that did not settle with Jewell. The lawsuit remained pending for several years, having been considered at one time by the Supreme Court of Georgia, and had become an important part of case law regarding whether journalists could be forced to reveal their sources. Jewell's estate continued to press the case even after his death in 2007, but in July 2011 the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled for the defendant. The Court concluded that "because the articles in their entirety were substantially true at the time they were published—even though the investigators' suspicions were ultimately deemed unfounded—they cannot form the basis of a defamation action."
Although CNN settled with Jewell for an undisclosed monetary amount, CNN maintained that its coverage had been "fair and accurate".
In July 1997, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, prompted by a reporter's question at her weekly news conference, expressed regret over the FBI's leak to the news media that led to the widespread presumption of his guilt, and apologized outright, saying, "I'm very sorry it happened. I think we owe him an apology. I regret the leak."
The same year, Jewell made public appearances. He appeared in Michael Moore's 1997 film, The Big One. He had a cameo in the September 27, 1997 episode of Saturday Night Live, in which he jokingly fended off suggestions that he was responsible for the deaths of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana.
In 2001, Jewell was honored as the Grand Marshal of Carmel, Indiana's Independence Day Parade. Jewell was chosen in keeping with the parade's theme of "Unsung Heroes".
On April 13, 2005, Jewell was exonerated completely when Eric Rudolph, as part of a plea deal, pled guilty to carrying out the bombing attack at Centennial Olympic Park, as well as three other attacks across the southern U.S. Just over a year later, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue honored Jewell for his rescue efforts during the attack.
Jewell worked in various law enforcement jobs, including as a police officer in Pendergrass, Georgia. He worked as a deputy sheriff in Meriwether County, Georgia until his death. He also gave speeches at colleges.
On each anniversary of the bombing until his illness and eventual death, he would privately place a rose at the Centennial Olympic Park scene where spectator Alice Hawthorne died.
Death and legacy
Jewell died on August 29, 2007, at the age of 44. He was suffering from serious medical problems that were related to diabetes.
Richard Jewell, a biographical drama film, was released in the United States on December 13, 2019. The film was directed and produced by Clint Eastwood. It was written by Billy Ray, based on the 1997 article "American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell," by Marie Brenner, and the book The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle (2019) by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen. Jewell is played by Paul Walter Hauser.