Law enforcement officers compete for DeKalb sheriff

Statewide primary

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Four challengers are trying to oust DeKalb County Sheriff Jeff Mann from office in a heated race that has focused on department morale and effectiveness.

Mann has been in charge of the department for two years after previously serving as chief deputy. He boasts that his office arrested 57 of 61 people wanted for murder in 2015 and runs quality inmate rehabilitation programs. But his opponents argue Mann heads a sheriff's office with low morale that offers ineffective service to the public.

Voters will choose among the candidates during the May 24 Democratic primary election, with a runoff to be held July 26 if necessary.

The candidates are retired homicide detective Geraldine Champion, retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent Ted Golden, former Deputy Sheriff Kyle Jones, investigator Michael Williams and Mann. The winner will face Republican Harold Dennis in the November general election.

Mann said the sheriff's office is run efficiently and was recognized by the National Sheriffs' Association with its Triple Crown honor in 2008. The award honors departments that have been accredited by three agencies.

“You don’t become one of the top sheriff’s offices in the nation by happenstance,” Mann said during a debate at New Life Church on Monday. “My contention is that morale is not low. … They’re still underpaid, and we’re working with the commissioners and the administration” to seek pay raises.

Jones, a former DeKalb police officer and deputy sheriff, said the department under Mann’s administration lacks integrity. He accused Mann of compelling employees to volunteer for his campaign and punishing those who wouldn’t.

“From working in the trenches with them, I understand the problems,” Jones said. “I know what it’s going to take to serve the citizens and take care of the employees in the sheriff’s office.”

Williams, an investigator in the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office, said deputies should be better trained so they can assist other police agencies.

“We deserve more,” Williams said. “It’s time for the sheriff’s office to become active in enforcing the laws of DeKalb County.”

Golden criticized the sheriff's office for its handling of the death of a recruit, George Ward, while he was training to become a detention officer in May 2013.

During the debate Monday, Golden put on a pink shirt like the one Ward was wearing as he hunched over while drill sergeants pushed him. Ward's mother questioned whether the pink shirt was meant to single him out.

“I want to bring accountability, transparency and integrity to this department,” Golden said. “We are in a grave time in DeKalb County, and we need to improve our relationships with the people.”

Champion said she would fight for employee pay raises and institute an open-door policy for employees and the public to communicate their concerns.

“The critical thing I see is getting involved in law enforcement,” she said. “In order for us to have a safer DeKalb, and to improve our economic development, we need to have safe streets and safe neighborhoods.”

The DeKalb Sheriff’s Office has about 860 full-time employees with an annual budget of about $80 million.

Mann has raised the most money in the race by far, reporting $89,394 in contributions this year, followed by Williams with $23,999, Jones with $14,252, Golden with $7,607 and Champion with $5,124, according to campaign finance reports.