Accusations fly in unusual runoff election for DeKalb Sheriff

Should Ruth Stringer win next month’s runoff election, she’d become DeKalb County’s sheriff for just a few months.

But Stringer said she’s staying in the race because even that short amount of time would allow her to expose the corruption she claims is happening inside the sheriff’s office.

“This is the last opening that the citizens are going to have to get a real snapshot of what’s going on inside the sheriff’s office,” Stringer said this week. “And it’s the last time that the GBI will be invited in” to investigate.

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Incumbent Sheriff Melody Maddox took office last December when Sheriff Jeffrey Mann stepped down. The runoff that will be decided Aug. 11 is to fill the remainder of Mann’s unexpired term, which runs through the end of the year.

Maddox, a former chief deputy, already earned an outright win in a separate Democratic primary against seven competitors — including Stringer — and will face Republican Harold Dennis in November for the right to be DeKalb’s next full-term, four-year sheriff. In deep blue DeKalb, she’s all but a guaranteed winner.

But Maddox didn’t eclipse the 50% mark in the special election, which was originally scheduled for March then twice delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. All of that set up the unusual showdown with Stringer, who is fighting for an office she knows she would only hold through December.

Stringer has provided few specifics and no documentation to back up her accusations of corruption, which she says involve contract awards and use of force cases that were “swept up under the rug.”

Maddox said she’d love more information on what, exactly, Stringer is alleging and would investigate if warranted. But that conversation hasn’t happened, she said.

Maddox also pointed out that Stringer just retired from the sheriff’s office last spring after a three-decade career. Stringer was also interim sheriff for 40 days in 2017, when Mann was suspended following his arrest in Piedmont Park.

“She had 30 years to bring any hint of impropriety to the forefront,” Maddox said.

Stringer said she has nothing against Maddox. Her real issue is with another former sheriff, whom she accuses of pulling strings behind the scenes.

Thomas Brown was DeKalb County’s sheriff from 2001 to 2014 and still wields an influential voice in local politics. He has also worked as a consultant, with clients that include the healthcare company Wellpath.

Brown hired Wellpath, then known as Correct Care Solutions, to provide medical services to inmates in DeKalb’s jail when he was sheriff. He said he’s helped introduce the company to sheriff’s offices in Cobb, Cherokee and Rockdale counties and others since leaving office, but has never been involved in consulting as it relates to DeKalb. He said nothing he does, in that realm or others, is unethical.

Stringer did not mention Wellpath specifically but accused Brown — who has backed Maddox’s campaign — of trying to steer the sheriff’s race so he can run a puppet regime and “control who gets the contracts.”

“I really, really like Thomas Brown,” Stringer said. “I just don’t like the way he moves.”

Both Brown and Maddox dismissed Stringer’s accusations as pure election season politics.

“Every four years there is a slate of candidates that are running for DeKalb County sheriff, who have worked in the office for a period of time, who throw out the corruption word,” Brown said. “Only for their voice to go away until they resurface again four years later.”

Said Maddox: “Thomas Brown supports me, absolutely. But he’s the past sheriff. I am the current sheriff. I make my own decisions.”

Advance in-person voting for the sheriff’s runoff and a handful of other DeKalb County races begins Monday.

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