CUMMING, Ga. – A man wielding an assault rifle, explosives and supplies to take hostages opened fire outside a Georgia courthouse Friday, wounding a deputy before he was killed in a shootout with officers, authorities said.
Dennis Marx had been due in court Friday morning to plead guilty in a drug case. He arrived at the courthouse wearing body armor in a rented SUV with both homemade and commercially made explosives, two handguns, zip ties, water and other gear. He dropped homemade spike strips and used smoke devices in an effort to keep officers from reaching him, said Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper.
Authorities were familiar with Marx, who had placed obstacles around his home about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta when officers came to arrest him in the past. Bomb squads carefully checked the home in a hilly, wooded neighborhood, fearing he may have set explosive traps around the property. While explosive devices were found inside the home, they were not set to detonate, Piper said. Marx had left his house several days before the attack, Piper said.
The wounded deputy prevented others from getting hurt when he encountered Marx, Piper said. The sheriff's office said in a news release that Marx tried to run over the deputy, and the deputy then shot at Marx.
"When the deputy engaged him outside, it saved lives," Piper said. "The entire situation was solved by that deputy's actions."
Other deputies heard the gunshots and rushed to help, leading to a gunbattle that lasted about two minutes and involved eight deputies, Piper said. It was not clear which one fired the fatal shot, he said.
The downtown area around the courthouse remained cordoned off by police tape Friday evening.
Marx has had numerous run-ins with the law, dating to at least 2011. In August of that year, he was arrested on numerous felony charges, including selling marijuana and weapon possession.
That same month, authorities filed papers in an effort to seize weapons and money found after an undercover officer bought drugs from Marx. Court documents show authorities wanted to seize two dozen handguns and rifles, 71 gun magazines and $24,311 in cash.
The seizure case was put on hold while the criminal charges were pending, said Richard Grossman, who represented Marx in the seizure case. Another attorney representing Marx had negotiated a "very favorable" plea deal for the man in the criminal case, and Marx had been scheduled to plead guilty on Friday morning.
"It seems like he was really afraid and did this irrational act," said Grossman.
Marx had filed a federal civil rights complaint against the sheriff's department in 2013, according to court records.
The complaint accused the sheriff's department of using excessive force and illegal searches. Marx said in the complaint that officers hit him when he was standing with his hands up, used chemical agents to make him believe an explosion or fire had occurred and used an extra set of handcuffs that cut off circulation to his hands.
Meanwhile, the wounded deputy, who has been with the department for 25 years, was shot below his knee. He suffered two broken bones in his leg and underwent surgery Friday afternoon. He is expected to make a full recovery. His name was not released.
The streets in the neighborhood where Marx lived are steep, narrow and lined with modest homes nestled close together among the trees. Neighbor Dorothy Varano said it's a calm and peaceful place to live where neighbors are friendly but don't involve themselves in each other's business.
Varano has lived just up the street from where Marx lived for the last 10 years. She said she had a run-in with him seven or eight years ago when she was walking her Maltese dog, Daisy, past his house and his dog attacked hers. His dog grabbed hers in its jaws and shook the Maltese back and forth. Marx told her his dog wasn't being aggressive and was just playing with her dog like a toy.
Her dog was badly injured and required expensive treatment, and she was surprised when Marx offered to pay her vet bill. He paid it, gave her a small electronic device that emits a sound that's supposed to stop an attacking dog and gave her a box of candy.
Still, she said she decided long ago that she would steer clear of Marx.
"I decided he was not a person I was going to cross in any way because he would probably slash my tires or put something in my gas tank," she said.