Gwinnett district attorney, commission chair face primary challengers

Gwinnett District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson answers questions after announcing Tuesday, April 9, 2024, that charges would be filed in the death of Abigail Hernandez, 4, who was hit by a truck and killed in the Mall of Georgia parking lot last month.   (Ben Gray /

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Gwinnett District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson answers questions after announcing Tuesday, April 9, 2024, that charges would be filed in the death of Abigail Hernandez, 4, who was hit by a truck and killed in the Mall of Georgia parking lot last month.   (Ben Gray /

The high-profile offices of district attorney, county commission chair and sheriff are on Gwinnett County ballots for the first time since a blue wave crashed over the suburb four years ago, and all three one-term incumbents face challengers in the Democratic primary.

Early voting is underway. Election Day is May 21.

The district attorney race is hotly contested this year. Incumbent Patsy Austin-Gatson faces blowback over a homicide conviction rate that dipped to 57% in 2022, as WSB-TV first reported. Austin-Gatson blamed the losses on old cases and staff turnover but said her office’s homicide conviction rate jumped to 100% in trials from 2023 onward.

Austin-Gatson has also been criticized for a failed attempt to ban Delta-8, a CBD product that gives a milder high than marijuana, in Gwinnett County.

“When you look at what’s happening now, with children getting sick on gummies and the vapes in schools, we still have a problem,” she said.

Austin-Gatson established a conviction integrity unit, a cold case unit, a junior mentorship program, a juvenile court diversion program and a citizens’ academy. The Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council recently gave her office an award for services to victims.

Austin-Gatson said she would use another term to focus on preventing prison recidivism and work with young people.

Her two challengers, Andrea Alabi and Daryl E. Manns, are both former employees who have criticized Austin-Gatson’s leadership.

Alabi, now an assistant district attorney in Fulton County, was third in command in the Gwinnett DA’s office and left soon after Austin-Gatson was sworn in. Manns rose to become second in command before leaving the office in October.

Alabi has worked as a defense attorney and a prosecutor. She said she would make sure the district attorney’s office is focusing on prosecuting violent repeat offenders while offering pathways to second chances for low-level nonviolent offenders and support to survivors.

She implicated Manns in the troubles facing Austin-Gatson.

“We saw the mishandling of cases come from their administration, so I think I am the candidate that is distinguishable,” she said.

The Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys endorsed Alabi.

Manns said he had more experience as a prosecutor than Alabi and would be a stronger hand in punishing repeat offenders. He said they have different ideas about how the DA’s office should run. He said the office needs a homicide unit, which it currently does not have.

“Those cases are so important, sometimes you can’t trust them to young lawyers,” he said. “You have to get your most experienced attorneys to handle those cases and that’s why you see the results you’re seeing now.”

No Republicans are running for district attorney, so the Democratic primary will presumably determine who takes office in January.

County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson is being challenged in the Democratic primary by former state Rep. Donna McLeod.

Hendrickson said her biggest accomplishment in the last four years was navigating Gwinnett through the COVID-19 pandemic and managing millions of dollars in federal grant money that came with it.

“Anyone who says that we are worse off now than we were four years ago forgot that we were fighting for a roll of toilet paper,” she said. “Not a single day did we shut down. We continued as we needed to and that is the importance of having stable, steady leadership at the helm.”

Her biggest priority is addressing the affordable housing crisis by increasing the number of available housing units — at a time when the county’s northeast is voting on whether to create a new city to limit housing density.

“We want to permit similar uses in areas that already support the infrastructure, so I’m not proposing that we just put density up there,” Hendrickson said.

McLeod said Hendrickson has not done enough to change Gwinnett, pointing to County Administrator Glenn Stephens and other top officials left over from the previous Republican administration. McLeod blamed Hendrickson for allowing growth that causes traffic. McLeod said the county should consider light and heavy rail.

She also said Gwinnett does not hire enough minority contractors, something the county has commissioned a study on.

“We don’t need a study,” McLeod said. “The process is so antiquated that only the people who have done it before can get through it.”

On the Republican ballot, Justice Nwaigwe and John Sabic, who lost the commission District 2 election two years ago, are competing for the commission chair nomination.

Sheriff Keybo Taylor has four Democratic primary challengers: Curtis Clemons, Shurron B. Green, Joseph “Joe” Mark and former Solicitor General Brian Whiteside. On the Republican ballot, Mike Baker, Baron Reinhold and Oladipupo Soyomokun are facing off for the sheriff nomination.

Tax Commissioner Denise Mitchell is being challenged by Phillip Bonton III in the Democratic primary.

District 1 county Commissioner Kirkland Carden has no primary challenger. District 3 Commissioner Jasper Watkins III faces Marqus A. Cole in the Democratic primary.