Eight people running for DeKalb County sheriff on Thursday night told voters why they would be the right person for the job.
More than 150 residents attended a forum at Redan High School a little over a month before voters will head to the polls for the March 24 special election for sheriff. The election is nonpartisan and will coincide with presidential preference primary.
The candidates in the crowded race, all of whom have law enforcement or military experience, made the case for why they would be best suited to serve as DeKalb’s sheriff. The sheriff’s office is responsible for the county jail, security at the courts and processing warrants.
The eight candidates who debated at the forum were:
- Geraldine Champion, a retired Atlanta police homicide detective who also ran for sheriff in 2016
- Harold Dennis, a former DeKalb lieutenant who ran for sheriff in 2016
- Ted Golden, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent who also ran for sheriff in 2016
- Antonio “Block” Johnson, a military veteran and former jailer and marshal in Fulton County
- Kyle Keith Jones, a retired law enforcement officer and businessman who also ran for sheriff in 2016
- Melody Maddox, current DeKalb County sheriff
- Carl Mobley, a retired DeKalb County police officer
- Ruth “The Truth” Stringer, a Marine Corps veteran who briefly served as interim sheriff in 2017
A ninth candidate, Adam Gardner, a homicide investigator for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, did not attend the forum.
Maddox took over as sheriff in November after Jeffrey Mann stepped down amid a battle over his law enforcement certification.
“I am a leader with integrity, accountability, trust and the leadership that is needed,” Maddox said at the forum.
While the debate remained cordial and never turned contentious, several of the candidates criticized the current management of the sheriff’s office and brought up the history of corruption there. Since the 1950s, five DeKalb sheriffs have faced charges ranging from theft to murder.
“The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result,” Stringer said.
Dennis said that as sheriff, he would “call the FBI to do a full forensic audit” of the department and its finances.
Maddox maintained that there is no corruption in the sheriff’s office and pointed several times to DeKalb’s “Triple Crown” accreditation from the National Sheriffs’ Association.
Champion said the sheriff’s office has “had its foot on the first base for 50 years. She and Stringer both referenced the 2000 killing of sheriff-elect Derwin Brown. Defeated rival Sidney Dorsey was later convicted of ordering the fatal shooting.
“If the top is rocky, it’s going to filter all the way down,” Champion said.
Jones referenced “cronyism and corruption” in the sheriff’s office and said he would improve and increase staffing in the jail.
“I want to restore integrity and trust in that sheriff’s office that we lost,” he said.
The candidates said they are intent on treating inmates with care, following complaints over conditions inside the jail. Last summer, reports of mistreatment sparked protests outside the jail.
“One thing that I learned coming to the jail, you have to have compassion,” Johnson said. “I want citizens … to come in and tell us what we can do better.”
Mobley said that “we can’t afford to keep giving out this position,” possibly a reference to the fact that Maddox took over as sheriff because she was chief deputy when Mann stepped down. And Mann first became sheriff after taking over for former sheriff Thomas Brown, who retired before his term ended in 2014.
All of the candidates said they would not cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement by taking part in the controversial 287(g) program, which deputizes state and local officials with certain powers of federal ICE agents.
“There’s no need for us to invade (immigrants’) lives and turn it upside down. We have to stand for what is right,” Golden said.
The winner of the March 24 election will fill the unexpired term of Maddox’s predecessor, Jeffrey Mann, who retired in November amid a battle over his law enforcement certification. If no candidate gets 50% of the vote, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters would take place on April 21.
The winner of that election would then take over as sheriff until the end of 2020, when Mann’s unexpired term ends.
The process of selecting DeKalb’s next full-term sheriff will begin when party primaries are held in May. Any necessary primary runoffs would be held in July, with November’s general election to follow.
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