Ben Smith February 15, 2001 Thursday, Home Edition Copyright 2001 The Atlanta Constitution The Atlanta Journal and Constitution February 15, 2001 Thursday, Home Edition
(DEKALB COUNTY, Ga.) -- Four of the eight candidates running for DeKalb County sheriff have been arrested in Georgia.
Joe Bembry, Geraldine Champion, Harold Dennis and J.F. McNaughton acknowledged past run-ins with the law during a question-and-answer session at a candidates' forum last week. Bembry, Dennis and McNaughton have been convicted of misdemeanors. Champion was acquitted of the charge against her.
While most offered few details on their records, an examination of court records, personnel files and information compiled in the Georgia Crime Information Center database reveals varied arrest histories for several candidates.
"I haven't been charged with anything of magnitude," declared Bembry at the gathering of 150 voters in Stone Mountain last Thursday.
But Bembry, who has unsuccessfully run for political office at least 10 times since 1975, had three times as many arrests during the same period.
Most of his arrests were for zoning code violations for failing to clean up one of his two Glenwood Road properties. But Bembry also holds misdemeanor convictions for destroying property by smashing a code enforcement officer's window with a gun, for failing to pay child support and for bad checks.
Bembry was one of five sheriff's candidates who allowed The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to review their GCIC files. The GCIC is a database of crime information compiled by every county and city in the state and linked to a national crime database. Much of the information is shared among law enforcement agencies and is confidential.
The search found no arrests for interim DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown, Georgia Perimeter College police Chief Juliet De La Cruz, or former U.S. Labor Department investigator Le'Roy Battle.
According to the GCIC, Dennis, who at Thursday's forum admitted to having been charged with public indecency last summer, also pleaded no contest in 1996 to a simple battery charge for allegedly slapping, shoving and punching a former girlfriend. He was sentenced to probation and fined $500.
According to his personnel files at the DeKalb Sheriff's Office, the former reservist lost his certification from the state Peace Officers Standards and Training Council in 1999. But Dennis is appealing that decision. Meanwhile, his public indecency charge for having sex in the back seat of a car was dismissed last month.
Champion, McNaughton and Jonesboro police Lt. Roosevelt Smith refused the newspaper's request to review their GCIC files. An examination of Smith's personnel records with the Jonesboro department showed no arrests.
At last Thursday's forum, Smith said, "Like other young kids growing up in Chicago, yes, I did get into trouble. Did it cause me to do anything to cause me to not be certified (as a law enforcement officer) in the state of Georgia? No."
Champion's internal affairs and personnel records at the Atlanta Police Department show she was arrested in 1982 and charged with shoplifting meat from a southeast Atlanta grocery where she worked off-duty as a security guard. The former Atlanta homicide detective was acquitted by a jury in 1983.
McNaughton, 61, may have the oldest arrest record of the four. In 1959 the now-retired Lockheed employee was given six months' probation in DeKalb County for carrying a pistol without a license and firing it on a Sunday. McNaughton said he has other misdemeanor convictions in Fulton County and the city of Atlanta.
Several candidates said that while they're not proud of their arrest records, they believe the experience could be beneficial to an aspiring sheriff.
"Being in jail gives you an opportunity to see how people see things in jail," said Bembry.