Allegedly exposing yourself to a cop is bad enough. Running away is even worse – especially when you’re the sheriff.
DeKalb County Sheriff Jeff Mann says his arrest late Saturday night in Piedmont Park was a misunderstanding, but the misdemeanor charges against him — indecency and obstruction — may be the least of his concerns.
An investigation by the agency that certifies law enforcement officers is underway that could lead to his removal as sheriff.
Politically, his position is even more tenuous. Asked whether Mann should resign, the head of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association didn’t hesitate.
“If the charges are accurate, absolutely. No question,” said Terry Norris, executive director of the sheriff’s association. Norris said Mann’s colleagues were “incensed” after learning details of the arrest, specifically the accusation that he attempted to evade arrest.
“It’s an embarrassment to everyone,” Norris said.
But while Mann may not have much support from his colleagues in law enforcement, he has no plans to step down, according to a statement provided by his lawyer, Noah Pines.
“Sheriff Mann will continue to run the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office at the level of excellence it is known for and in keeping with what the citizens of DeKalb County expect and deserve,” the statement read. “He asks that you respect that this is a personal matter, which should have no bearing on the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office and its staff.”
Pines declined to discuss the charges and said he’s advised Mann, who did not report to work Monday, to withhold further comment. On Sunday, Mann, a 54-year-old unmarried attorney, vowed to clear his name.
Legally, that shouldn’t be too difficult. Dunwoody defense attorney Esther Panitch, who is not involved in the case, said Mann will likely qualify for pre-trial intervention, which is reserved for offenders with no prior criminal history charged with misdemeanors.
If approved for intervention, which is at the discretion of the prosecutor, Mann would not have to enter a plea on the charges against him and would disappear pending completion of community service or payment of a fine.
“It would be like it never happened,” Panitch said.
But that wouldn’t stop the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council from potentially revoking or suspending Mann’s license, which would result in his removal from office, said spokesman Ryan Powell. Certification from the council is required for all law enforcement officers and roughly 600 to 700 lose their certification each year, he said.
“These are serious allegations,” said Powell, adding that, “in a lot of people’s mind, fleeing arrest is certainly the worst of them.”
Georgia law also allows the governor to convene a panel of two sheriffs and the state attorney general to investigate the allegations and recommend whether he should be suspended. A spokeswoman for Gov. Nathan Deal didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment Monday.
Still, Mann is not without support.
“It’s got to be a misunderstanding,” said Jonathan Weintraub, an attorney who hired Mann to work for DeKalb County in 1993.
He said he hopes Mann doesn’t resign.
“He’s been a great sheriff, and it would be a disservice to DeKalb County if he had to step down,” he said.
As sheriff, Mann oversees the county jail, about 750 employees and an $83.6 million budget.
Former DeKalb Public Safety Director Cedric Alexander called Mann a “true professional” who was “committed to public safety.”
“He’s someone who worked in great partnership with the DeKalb Police Department,” Alexander said.
Meanwhile, Mann’s detractors are seizing upon his decision to run from the officer, recycling that tried and true maxim that it’s the cover up, not the crime, that gets you in the end.
“As a law enforcement officer in DeKalb County, why run?” said Harry Daniels, the attorney for Darling Thompson, a former administrative coordinator who is suing Mann, alleging he forced her to work on his political campaign during work hours. “If you’re innocent, don’t run.”