Gwinnett has wide-open fields for sheriff, district attorney races

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway is not seeking reelection. Curtis Compton / AJC FILE PHOTO

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway is not seeking reelection. Curtis Compton / AJC FILE PHOTO

With Butch Conway electing to not seek another term in office, the field to replace the longtime Gwinnett County sheriff is wide open, with four Democrats and two Republicans running to replace him.

Republican Lou Solis, Conway’s chief deputy, has received the sheriff’s endorsement. When announcing his retirement in January, Conway said he had hired Solis in 2017 hoping he would be the next sheriff. Solis is a retired Army Ranger and former assistant chief with Braselton police.

“He’s prepared to step in,” Conway said. “I think he will continue the great things that we’ve been doing.”

Solis started a unit at the jail exclusively for veterans and has said he supports the controversial immigration program known as 287(g), which releases detainees to federal custody to be deported.

He’s being challenged by Keith Van Nus, a former Gwinnett sheriff’s deputy who ran against Conway in 2016. Van Nus said he would keep the program, but focus on applying it to violent offenders.

That’s also the aim of Democrat Ben Haynes, a Special Victims Investigator with the Gwinnett District Attorney’s Office who has held other law enforcement jobs over the years. He said the way the program operates now leads to public mistrust.

Haynes also said he wants to increase the diversity of the sheriff’s department and better train inmates for jobs.

The other Democratic candidates would all eliminate 287(g).

Curtis Clemons, a former sheriff’s deputy who retired as an assistant chief in the Gwinnett County Police Department, called the program expensive and discriminatory. He also said he wants to end the school-to-prison pipeline and focus on mental health interventions.

Keybo Taylor, a Gwinnett police officer for 26 years who rose to the rank of Major and oversaw two precincts, said he wants to promote de-escalation training among deputies. Taylor also said his experience during the HIV/AIDS crisis would prepare him for how to operate during the coronavirus pandemic.

Healing the divide that exists in the sheriff’s office as the county’s population has changed is a key plan for Floyd Scott, who worked in the sheriff’s office and the police department SWAT team, among other roles. Scott also said he’d like a new focus on crisis intervention training and would shut down the department’s rapid response team, which has been the basis of inmate lawsuits claiming abusive treatment.

In addition to the sheriff's race, Republican District Attorney Danny Porter faces two Democratic challengers.

Porter, who was first elected in 1992, considered changing parties last year but decided against it. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in January that he’s never fit the mold of a stereotypical, “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” Republican prosecutor, pointing to his office’s participation in diversion programs and accountability courts.

One Democratic challenger, Patsy Austin-Gatson, said she wants to treat people for opioid and other addictions, not incarcerate them. Austin-Gaston is a lawyer who works in the Gwinnett solicitor’s office.

Wesley Person, a lawyer who has served as both a prosecution and defense attorney, said he wants to eliminate cash bail on nonviolent property crimes. Person also wants to lower the incarceration rate in Gwinnett.