Nine candidates on the ballot for DeKalb Sheriff special election
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By Cathi Harris, contributor
Nine DeKalb County law enforcement professionals – each with decades of experience behind them – are in the running to serve out the unexpired term of former DeKalb County Sheriff Jeffrey Mann.
Mann retired on Nov. 30, 2019 and was replaced by the current Sheriff Melody Maddox, who had been the chief deputy. A special election has been called for March 24 to elect a replacement who will serve until the end of 2020. The election also coincides with the state’s presidential preference primary.
If no single candidate for sheriff gets more than 50 percent of the votes, the top two candidates will compete in a run-off election scheduled for April 21. DeKalb voters will elect a new full-term sheriff in May for the term to begin in 2021.
The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department is one of three county-wide law enforcement agencies in DeKalb County – a fact that can be confusing for people who move here. Georgia’s state constitution mandates that each county has an elected sheriff who serves as the county’s top law enforcement official. In DeKalb, the sheriff’s department is primarily responsible for operating and maintaining the DeKalb County Jail, providing security for the courthouse and county buildings, and for administering and executing warrants within the county. According to the department’s website, the office’s fugitive unit is known for arresting 98 percent of murder suspects within 72 hours of receiving the arrest warrant.
DeKalb also has a county police department headed by a non-elected police chief who reports to the DeKalb County CEO and County Commission. The police department is the designated agency of first response and handles all emergency 911 calls. The DeKalb County Marshal’s Office, an office of the State Court of DeKalb County, enforces the directives and orders of the state court as well as the county’s magistrate courts.
All three agencies — the sheriff’s department, marshal’s office and county police department — have authority to enforce all state laws and make arrests for violations.
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These are the candidates who have qualified to run for the office of DeKalb County Sheriff for the special election on March 24:
Maddox began her 28-year law enforcement career with the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office in 1996, starting as a detention technician. She left to spend 10 years in positions with the DeKalb County Police Department and the Atlanta Police Department before being hired to start the public safety office at DeKalb Technical College (now Georgia Piedmont Technical College) in 2008. She became the college’s first assistant chief of police and was then named the chief of police, the only female officer in that position for the entire Georgia technical college system of 22 colleges.
Maddox returned to the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office in 2019 to serve as chief of administration and was promoted to the position of chief deputy — the highest-ranking non-elected officer in the department — in July. In that role, she was responsible for the planning and administration of the jail, courts, field and training operations.
Maddox told Decaturish that she divides her priorities for her term in office into two broad categories–internal and external.
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“Internal [priorities are] ensuring every officer is trained properly on key matters; working towards fixing the infrastructure needs at the jail; organizing the agency to be more efficient, and demonstrating E.A.R [which stands for] Excellence Accountability and Respect,” Maddox said. “I have those letters on my wall so that everyone who stops in is reminded of what we are working towards.”
Externally, she wants to focus on reducing crime, improving community relations and improving the processes the sheriff’s office has with other departments when receiving inmates and caring for them while detained.
“I have a strong passion for law enforcement being empathetic and sympathetic for life circumstances. While working as a DeKalb police officer, I saw how one’s life can change by one decision. Regardless of the offense, I believe that a person should be treated with dignity and respect! For every person incarcerated person there is a family connected to them and a community impacted.”
Gardner has a more than 25-year career in dedicated law enforcement and currently serves as a homicide investigator for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. His prior positions include working as a guard at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison; serving on the governor’s security detail with the Georgia State Patrol; and serving a deputy sheriff in Fulton County.
If elected, Gardner has pledged to form a Citizens Review Board to operate as an advisory board for the sheriff to help improve public trust and confidence in the sheriff’s office.
“The citizens review board that I will implement is a very big deal,” Gardner told Decaturish. “It will allow the people of DeKalb to really know what’s going on with the department and law enforcement in general. It will absolutely hold me accountable. And, furthermore, the people of DeKalb will have a voice and a direct line of communication with the chief law enforcement officer of the county, which is the sheriff. Accountability, transparency, and financial responsibility are long overdue.”
Other elements of his platform include: improving educational and job training opportunities for jail inmates; increasing law enforcement presence in high crime areas; forming a crime suppression unit and a home invasion task force; and creating a junior deputy program to educate young people about career opportunities in the areas of public safety and criminal justice.
Golden retired from the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 2014 after 28 years of service. Prior to joining the DEA, he worked as an intake officer with the Memphis and Shelby County (TN) Juvenile Court, a juvenile court probation officer, and an officer with the Memphis Police Department.
His campaign platform calls for initiating a forensic audit of the entire sheriff’s office; forming a team of outside law enforcement professionals to perform an assessment of the sheriff’s office; and pursuing a multi-agency initiative to combat human trafficking.
“In 2018, the Atlanta metro area was identified as having one of the largest sex trade markets in the country,” Golden said. “Human trafficking includes both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. It is also well documented that certain areas of DeKalb County have a serious human trafficking problem. As the chief law enforcement officer of this county, I will be engaged in addressing matters like this that clearly impact a very vulnerable segment of our population, especially with adolescent teen girls.”
Golden cited his past experience with the DEA as well as his training with the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change as factors that make him the ideal candidate to occupy the sheriff’s seat.
“My 34 years of law enforcement experience coupled with nonviolence training has taught me how to implement and reinforce an environment consistent with the mission statement of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, which states in part: ‘ … As role models, we value respect, honoring the rights and dignity of each person we are called upon to serve.’ Nonviolence will be a valuable tool to add to training components of the sheriff’s office.”
Champion retired from the Atlanta Police Department in 1993 after 27 years, serving first as a patrol officer, then in special operations, then robbery investigations, and finishing her career as a homicide investigator — the only black woman and one of only two women in that unit at the time.
Champion told Decaturish her priorities, if elected, were to improve the educational and job training opportunities for inmates at the jail and to root out the sources of corruption and graft that she claims still plague the department.
“The [jail] gets money for training for the inmates, but they aren’t getting training,” Champion says. “You have people who go in for minor offenses and then they can’t get bail. They get in there with people who have done much worse things, they spend time there. Then, when they get out. They have a record and they can’t get a job!”
A longtime DeKalb resident and friend of the late Sheriff-Elect Derwin Brown, Champion says that a sheriff from outside the existing power structure is needed to clean up the office.
“Derwin was killed because he was going to take the cover off all the corruption in that department,” Champion said. “People talk to me. They know they can trust me and they say that it is still going on.”
Champion points out that, aside from former Sheriff Thomas Brown, most of DeKalb County’s previous sheriffs have been convicted, or at least indicted, for some kind of criminal activity.
“It’s not the money and it’s not that I don’t want to just enjoy life and go fishing [in retirement],” she said. “I feel like it is a calling to try to fix this place.”
Johnson retired at the end of December as Fulton County Marshal, culminating an almost 32-year career in law enforcement in Fulton County. He served three terms as marshal (12 years total) and 19 years as a deputy sheriff.
“I led the Fulton Marshal’s Office for 12 years in which the department achieved several national accreditation awards for being one of the top law enforcement agencies in the nation,” Johnson told Decaturish. “I have managed multimillion-dollar budgets in the sheriff’s and the marshal’s offices. I have managed jail contracts, departmental personnel, payroll, hiring and disciplinary matters, and training of personnel.”
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If he is elected, Johnson said he will work to promote transparency and accountability throughout the department so the deputies and staff will have a workplace “they can be proud of,” pledging to address safety and maintenance issues at the jail.
A key focus of his tenure would also be to implement programs to reach out to DeKalb County youth to build positive relationships.
“While serving as the Fulton County Marshal, I started the Junior Deputy Program in 2009 so kids from the ages of 12 to 17 could have exposure to law enforcement and to encourage continued learning during the summer,” Johnson said. “I am convinced that proactive and positive engagement with our youth will make a difference in our community.”
A former Marine and a 30-year veteran of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, Stringer worked her way through the ranks from detention officer to the rank of major before her retirement last year. Over that time, she served in every one of the office’s divisions, including the positions of human resources supervisor, assistant commander for the Office of Professional Standards, Court Division commander, Jail Division assistant commander, and Training Background and Recruitment commander.
She was named Officer of the Year in 2010 by the DeKalb Bar Association and was presented the Medal of Valor in 2009 after saving a child from being sexually assaulted at Stone Mountain Park. She also served as interim sheriff in 2017 during former Sheriff Mann’s 40-day suspension from duty.
If elected, Stringer told Decaturish that a key focus will be on improving safety at the jail for both inmates and officers. Currently, there is a serious problem with the aging locking system that has resulted in inmates being able to get out of their cells and attack other inmates or the staff. The growth of mold has become a worsening problem over the previous five years, posing a threat to the health of everyone who comes in contact with it.
“The jail operation is the main responsibility of the Sheriff and has not received the attention that it should get because its inner workings are not as visible to the public,” Stringer told Decaturish.
Stringer also said more transparency is needed regarding the way the jail operates, including the way that vendor contracts are awarded. She also wants to see a merit system established to ensure that promotions and pay increases are fair.
“I want the citizens to know they can depend on me to get in there and work hard to get the job done,” she said. “I know where the transformation needs to occur and I am willing to get in there and enact the much-needed changes.”
A 17-year law enforcement veteran who served in both the Fulton and DeKalb County Sheriffs’ departments, Dennis is now a professional pilot and independent business owner.
“Flying is something that I love, but as a lifelong DeKalb resident, my community is also something that I love and want to see flourish,” Dennis said, when asked about his decision to run for sheriff.
If elected, he wants to implement a Crime Suppression Unit and Home Invasion Task Force that would use predictive data analysis to determine where to focus resources to quickly apprehend criminals and deter future crime.
He also favors establishing a multi-jurisdictional Gang Task Force with the DeKalb County Police Department and the different municipal police departments, to disrupt gang recruitment and combat gang crime in the county.
Rising crime rates, particularly in south and east DeKalb, have pushed families and business development out of the community, Dennis said. “I truly want to be a people’s sheriff who will sweep the county clean of corruption and crime and give DeKalb back to the citizens who live here.”
Dennis also wants to see the department do more to reach out to DeKalb’s young people who need guidance and opportunities for growth. He would like to start a Sheriff’s Athletic League and a junior deputy program and internship program to provide a path for interested kids to find future careers in law enforcement.
A lifelong DeKalb County resident with 28 years’ experience in law enforcement, Mobley has served in both the Sheriff’s Office and with the DeKalb County Police Department, including service on the SWAT Team, mobile crisis unit, special operation, bicycle patrol, and was the acting supervisor for the DeKalb CEO executive protection detail.
If he is elected, Mobley would like to do more to get the sheriff’s department to partner with schools and other organizations to build relationships in the community.
“I would like to see the sheriff’s office become a fully functioning law enforcement entity,” Mobley told Decaturish. “One that’s more involved in the community, that can handle the jail, the courts system, but most of all work with the police department to actively combat the crime in our county.”
Initiatives to combat homelessness, help people with mental illness access treatment, and work with local youth are other key priorities.
Jones retired from the DeKalb Sheriff’s Office in 2014 at the rank of lieutenant. He joined the office in 2008 after working at the DeKalb Police Department and with MARTA Police. At the sheriff’s department, Jones’ experience including serving as the public information officer, as the aide to Sheriff Thomas Brown, and as a supervisor in the jail division. During an 11-year career with the DeKalb Police, Jones was the commander of the fraud and financial crimes unit, as well as serving as a sergeant in Internal Affairs and as detective sergeant in Major Crimes. At MARTA, he was a lieutenant commander in Internal Affairs and the public information officer.
If elected, Jones said he will focus on weeding out corruption and cronyism within the department, improve training for the deputies and improve courthouse security.
“Key goals the incoming Sheriff has to focus on are: stabilizing and restoring the Integrity and trust back into the agency and eliminate the corruption, cronyism and corrupt practices that have pledged the agency for over 20 years,” Jones told Decaturish. “[Currently] the deputies are not experienced enough to assist the Dekalb Police to protect citizens, and address the current conditions in the jail. We need to address problems with inmate conditions, staffing issues, security issues, and the housing of individuals with mental health and low-level offenders.”
Jones also wants to provide cross-training across the divisions to make better use of the department’s resources.
“There is too much specialization in the agency and the employees are not cross-trained to work in the Field, Court and Jail Division, which presents issues at times of crisis,” Jones explained. “I will be that Sheriff who reaches across party lines, districts and demographics to find solutions to meet the needs of all citizens in DeKalb County.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about the sheriff Kyle Jones worked for. This story has been updated with the correct information.
More information about the March 24 election: The last day to register to be eligible to vote in this Special Election is February 24, 2020. The Special Election will be held in all the regular polling places DeKalb County, in conjunction with the Presidential Preference Primary. The polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. There will be early voting, but those times and dates haven’t been announced yet. To register to vote or to check your polling place information and see a sample ballot, visit the Secretary of State’s My Voter Page by clicking here.
You have to be 18 to vote. You will also need to bring one of the following forms of ID, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office:
– Any valid state or federal government issued photo ID, including a free ID Card issued by your county registrar’s office or the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS)
– A Georgia Driver’s License, even if expired
– Valid employee photo ID from any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. Government, Georgia, or any county, municipality, board, authority or other entity of this state
– Valid U.S. passport ID
– Valid U.S. military photo ID
– Valid tribal photo ID
Source: DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections, Georgia Secretary of State
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