DeKalb County Sheriff Jeffrey Mann called his weekend arrest for exposing himself a misunderstanding, but details of the incident raise plenty of uncomfortable questions for the law enforcement veteran.
What was he doing in an area of Piedmont Park police say is known for “sexual acts after dark”? And why, when confronted by an Atlanta police officer, did he flee, leading the officer on a quarter-mile chase before eventually surrendering?
Mann’s arrest on a pair of misdemeanor charges is the latest in a long series of scandals in DeKalb’s government, where dozens of elected officials and county employees have been found guilty of corruption in recent years. Four previous DeKalb sheriffs, dating back to 1972, saw their careers end following criminal inquiries.
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“It is embarrassing,” DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester said Sunday. “It’s certainly not a good headline for DeKalb County.”
In a statement, Mann vowed to clear his name. He was charged with indecency and obstruction and bonded out of Atlanta City Detention Center early Sunday morning.
According to the incident report, a police officer said Mann was exposing himself as he approached him in Piedmont Park late Saturday night. Once he got within 10 feet, the report continues, the officer turned his flashlight on Mann, identifying himself as police and commanding him to stop.
Mann turned and fled into a nearby Midtown neighborhood, running across 10th Street and into traffic, according to the officer.
“I continued to watch the male run while I waited to cross 10th Street and its traffic near Argonne Street,” the report states. “The male had stopped to tie his shoes. I got approximately 10 to 15 feet from the male before he noticed my approach. The male immediately stopped fixing his shoes and started running again.”
As Mann approached 9th Street he noticed he was losing ground to the officer, according to the report, and finally surrendered. The officer said he found two condoms in Mann’s right pocket.
“It’s tragic and unfortunate the citizens of DeKalb County have to endure yet another black eye,” said Harold Dennis, a business owner and Republican whom Mann defeated in November’s election with 80 percent of the vote. “The citizens of DeKalb deserve better by their elected officials.”
Commissioner Elaine Boyer, schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis and CEO Burrell Ellis are among the DeKalb officials who’ve been convicted of corruption charges. (The Georgia Supreme Court later threw out the verdict against Ellis, finding he hadn’t been granted a fair trial.)
Mann’s charges are far less serious but potentially no less embarrassing.
The sheriff told Channel 2 Action News that he appreciates Atlanta police and said he is “working with the City of Atlanta to clear these charges.” He was booked into the Atlanta City Detention Center and bonded out early Sunday morning. Atlanta police are not commenting, saying the investigation is ongoing.
Following his arrest, according to the incident report, Mann asked the officer if he could retrieve his identification from his vehicle. That request was denied. The sheriff then asked to speak with Major Peek, who he assumed to be the officer’s supervisor. Mann was taken to APD’s CNN Center precinct where he spoke with the officer’s actual supervisor, the report states.
Mann was re-elected as DeKalb sheriff in 2016, two years after winning a special election to replace Thomas Brown, who resigned to run for Congress. Trained as an attorney, Mann was recruited by Brown in 2001 to handle legal affairs for the sheriff's office and was promoted to chief deputy in 2007.
Commissioner Greg Adams, a former DeKalb police officer, said his confidence in Mann remains unshaken.
“The job that sheriff Jeff Mann has been doing has been superb,” Adams said. “The entire sheriff’s department, from the deputy sheriffs that patrol the street even to the jailers have a great deal of respect for his leadership.”
Adams said he hopes the allegations against Mann are unfounded.
“Being a police officer, I know first-hand that things can be misconstrued,” Adams said. “I hope there was a misinterpretation. I’m sorry it happened to him, but as it stands I trust his ability to lead the county forward as sheriff.”
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Vernon Jones, Mann’s opponent in a 2014 runoff, had accused the incumbent sheriff of using employees for campaign work and failing to protect inmates from jailhouse violence.
Mann denied those accusations, saying the claims were drummed up by Jones to gain a political advantage.
"It's important for the citizens of DeKalb County to have someone with integrity, to have someone they trust," Mann said during a debate last July.
It’s yet to be seen whether that trust remains.
“Now we have this, so I don’t know,” Jester said. “We’ll see where this takes us.”
A history of crime in the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office
Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown was shot and killed in his front yard in December 2000 after defeating incumbent Sheriff Sidney Dorsey in that year’s election. Brown had pledged to clean up corruption and kickbacks in the sheriff’s office during his campaign. Dorsey was convicted of ordering Brown’s killing, and he’s serving a life sentence.
Three of Dorsey’s predecessors also had their careers end following criminal inquiries.
Lamar Martin was convicted of taking bribes in 1972. Ray Bonner, a sheriff in the mid-1970s, was acquitted in the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy in his front yard. Bonner lost the 1976 election to former Atlanta Braves pitcher Pat Jarvis.
Jarvis pleaded guilty in 1999 to participating in a kickback scheme to get cash from food vendors, bonding companies and maintenance firms that had contracts with the county jail while he was sheriff. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison.