As exposure case appeal lingers, DeKalb Sheriff Mann continues on job

This report has been updated to more accurately reflect the nature of Mann’s charges.

When DeKalb County Sheriff Jeffrey Mann pleaded guilty to charges last year after an episode where he allegedly exposed himself to an Atlanta officer, it threatened his law enforcement certification and ultimately his job.

But a year-and-a-half later, with the state police oversight agency having decided to take away Mann’s law enforcement license, he still serves as sheriff. He has appealed the decision by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (P.O.S.T.) to revoke his certification.

The state appeals process is moving so slowly that the prospect that Mann could serve out his term and face re-election in 2020 without a resolution seems increasingly possible.

Attorney Noah Pines (left) and Dekalb County Sheriff Jeff Mann (right) walk into the courtroom at the Atlanta Municipal Court in Atlanta on July 27, 2017. DeKalb County Sheriff Jeff Mann pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of obstruction and prohibited conduct stemming from his arrest in Piedmont Park. Mann was sentenced to pay fines of $2,000 and serve 80 hours of community service. He was also banished from city of Atlanta parks for six months. (photo by Rebecca Breyer/freelance photographer)

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A spokeswoman for Mann said he will not comment about his appeal of the P.O.S.T. council’s decision. While his appeal is pending, his status remains unchanged.

Esther Panitch, an Atlanta attorney who is not connected to the case, said she was surprised to hear that Mann's case was still unresolved.

“There is no reason it should take this long if somebody is in office who has admitted guilt in a crime,” she said.

There are multiple levels to the appeals, and Mann is entitled to due process, said Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association.

“It would be no different than ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in any other case,” Norris said.

Mann's ordeal started in May 2017 when Atlanta police charged him with public indecency and obstruction of an officer. An Atlanta officer accused him of exposing his genitals late one night in Piedmont Park then running away to evade arrest.

The episode was another blow to DeKalb government’s image, and Gov. Nathan Deal suspended the sheriff for 40 days.

As he was returning to work, Mann worked out a plea agreement in July 2017 that required him to admit guilt to obstruction and a charge of prohibited conduct. He agreed to a $2,000 fine and 80 hours of community service. Mann was also barred from entering any park in the city of Atlanta for six months.

The Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council voted unanimously to revoke DeKalb Sheriff Jeff Mann’s certification on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, during the council’s meeting in Austell. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

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In September 2017, the POST Council voted unanimously to revoke Mann's law enforcement certification, a requirement under state law for elected sheriffs. A letter in his case file from Attorney General Christopher Carr criticizes his conduct.

“The sheriff’s behavior demonstrated a lack of respect for law enforcement and for the office Sheriff Mann holds,” Carr wrote. “Sheriff Mann’s flight from Officer (Sherrod) Snell in the park and in the surrounding neighborhood could have placed the lives of the pursuing officer, himself and other citizens at risk that night.”

The case was far from over. Mann met with a POST hearing officer in March in hopes of reaching a settlement that allowed him to keep his certification. He wasn’t successful, and the initial decision was upheld.

Mann elected to appeal to an administrative law judge at Georgia's Office of State Administrative Hearings. But the case can't proceed in court until Carr's office sends in the file, which hasn't happened.

Katie Byrd, the attorney general’s spokeswoman, said his office won’t comment on the pending appeal or offer any timetable for when Carr will move the case forward.

Data from POST indicates that Mann may be a high-profile example of a process that is known for dragging along. Ryan Powell, the council’s deputy executive director, said that over the past three years POST has recommended that 2,414 law enforcement officers have their certifications revoked. Of those, 319 were appealed.

Through the years, criminal charges against DeKalb County Sheriffs haven't been uncommon. Here are a few of the sheriffs in question: J. Lamar Martin, left, Sidney Dorsey and Jeffrey Mann.

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Most appeals are handled within three months, Powell said, but it can take longer if attorneys ask for more time.

“It also takes a considerably longer time if the case is forwarded to the Attorney General’s office for a hearing,” Powell said in an email. “If the case is forwarded to the AG’s office, it is not uncommon for the case to take several years before being heard.”

If Mann disagrees with the administrative judge’s decision, his appeals could transfer to a higher court.

He was elected sheriff in a 2014 special election, then won a full term in 2016. While his appeals have been pending, Mann has remained active in his role as sheriff operating DeKalb's jail and overseeing a force of deputies. According to state records, Mann oversees roughly 700 certified deputies and jailers.

If his certification is still intact in 2020, he will be eligible to run again.

Panitch said Georgia citizens should not have to wait years to see if officers accused of wrong-doing are allowed to continue working.

“If there is such a long wait for law enforcement officials to be evaluated, it makes me wonder how many others are waiting for an appeal,” she said. “And is that wait harmful to the citizens of this state?”