Now that DeKalb County Sheriff Jeff Mann has pleaded guilty to charges arising from a late-night rendezvous with the law, he’s free to go back to his job of keeping other criminals locked up.
Mann, accused of exposing himself to a stranger who turned out to be a cop and then fleeing, was initially booked with charges of indecency and obstruction May 6. Under a deal reached with prosecutors Thursday, the indecency charge was dropped. Mann instead pleaded guilty to prohibited conduct that night in Piedmont Park, as well as the original obstruction count.
He was ordered to pay $2,000 in fines and perform 80 hours of community service, which he already completed this month by volunteering for Hosea Feed the Hungry. He was also banished from all city of Atlanta parks for six months.
Mann's guilty plea won't have an immediate effect on his job as the county's top law enforcement officer. Since he was re-elected to a four-year term in November, the sheriff will retain his position unless his license is revoked or voters petition to recall him from office.
Until Thursday, Mann had fought the case against him at every step. He challenged the governor's authority to suspend him for 40 days, argued that a post-suspension trial amounted to double jeopardy and filed a motion asking a court to dismiss the charges.
That changed with one word to Atlanta Municipal Court Judge Crystal Gaines: “guilty.”
Mann didn’t elaborate or return a message seeking comment.
His political opponents, watching Mann from the courtroom benches, said he should resign or be removed from office.
“He does not have the respect from the men and and women who serve the office,” said Harold Dennis, a business owner and Republican who ran against Mann last year. “Now he has to see if he can keep his certification.”
Geraldine Champion, a retired homicide detective who ran against Mann in the Democratic primary, said he should ask DeKalb taxpayers for forgiveness.
“Anybody that did a crime that embarrassing, there’s no way in the world he can be over a jail with prisoners in there who did the same kind of things,” she said.
Mann’s trial had been scheduled to begin Thursday, but it was delayed more than two hours while prosecutors and his attorney negotiated a plea deal behind closed doors. The trial was called off when both sides agreed on the resolution.
Under the deal, prosecutors dropped a charge of public indecency and replaced it with a charge of prohibited conduct.
"Now he can say he never pleaded guilty to indecent exposure," said Esther Panitch, a defense attorney and legal analyst for Channel 2 Action News who attended the court hearing. "I was a little surprised when he said the word 'guilty.' … Now, all of a sudden, he's acting like now he's taking responsibility. That was not his position until today."
Mann’s case also may have been helped by the recommendation of a psychiatrist, who evaluated him and concluded there was no need for counseling or treatment, according to a court document.
Because Mann paid the fine at the courthouse and already completed his community service, the case against him is closed.
He already completed the 40-day suspension ordered by Gov. Nathan Deal, returning to work Monday. He also had suspended himself for a week for violating the DeKalb Sheriff's Office Code of Conduct, saying he brought "negative and unwanted criticism" to the department by putting himself in a position where he could be arrested. He was paid during both suspensions, but he said he'd donate the equivalent of one week's pay to charity.
But Mann still faces a threat to his job, which pays $147,098 a year.
Mark Niesse covers voting rights and elections for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He also reports on the Georgia House of Representatives and government. He has been a reporter at the AJC since 2013 following a decade at The Associated Press in Atlanta, Honolulu and Montgomery, Ala.