November 29, 2001
Former DeKalb sheriff charged in sheriff-elect's murder
Packed courtroom had heavy security
By BEN SMITH and DON PLUMMER
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writers
Former DeKalb County Sheriff Sidney Dorsey was arrested Friday for the assassination of the man who defeated him in the sheriff's election.
Dorsey, 61, and two other men -- former DeKalb deputy Melvin D. Walker and David Ramsey -- were charged with the murder of Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown, who was gunned down in front of his south DeKalb home three days before he was to have been sworn in as sheriff.
According to DeKalb authorities, there were four assailants at Brown's home on the night of the shooting.
Authorities said Walker, Ramsey and former DeKalb sheriff's deputy Patrick Cuffy were present, along with Paul Skyers, a former roomate and co-worker of Cuffy's at Dorsey's security business. Cuffy and Skyers have not been charged in the Brown slaying. Skyers is not currently in custody.
Dorsey and Walker appeared in DeKalb Magistrate Court at about 1:15 p.m. Friday. After a brief hearing Magistrate Judge C. David Wood accepted a state request to postpone the probable cause hearing until Dec. 18. Ramsey was to make a court appearance at 5 p.m.
Dorsey wore a black jacket, his hands cuffed behind his back as he was escorted into the courtroom by a phalanx of heavily armed SWAT officers.
Reporters screamed questions to Dorsey, asking if he killed Brown. "No," he replied. "No. No."
Walker and Dorsey sat alone on a court bench surrounded on all sides by armed police officers. The courtroom walls were lined with police officers, carrying shotguns and automatic weapons. During the hearing the magistrate courtroom was filled to capacity.
Derwin Brown's widow, Phyllis Brown, and Dorsey's wife, Sherry Dorsey, sat apart on the same bench row. As Walker and Brown were being led away by officers, Walker's attorney, Max Richardson clasped Walker's shoulder and said, "Be strong."
For most of the hearing, Dorsey looked tense and serious. But he turned and mouthed a kiss toward his wife, Sherry, and winked as he was escorted out of the courtroom.
Throughouyt the proceedings, Phyllis Brown had a glazed expression on her face. As Dorsey passed, she said in a loud voice, "Praise the Lord." Dorsey glanced briefly at her and walked on.
Moments later, as Phyllis Brown was leaving the courtroom, she pumped her fist briefly, but held a gritty look on her face.
"Sidney is very sad, as he should be in this position," Dorsey's attorney Brian Steel said. "But Sidney is very strong. The bell has been rung and we will answer."
Among those attending the hearing was Mabel Thomas, who who said she same to support Sherry Dorsey, her former Atlanta City Council colleague. "That's my friend," Thomas said.
Dorsey surrendered to authorities at about 3 a.m. Friday and the other suspects were arrested at their homes before dawn. Before the hearing, they were being held in an undisclosed location.
The break in the case came earlier this week when a former Dorsey deputy agreed to cooperate with authorities in the 11-month-old murder investigation, said a member of the special task force assembled to find Brown's killer.
The former deputy, Cuffy, had been charged with murder in the unrelated March 18 shooting death of a drug dealer, but prosecutors agreed to accept a guilty plea to aggravated assault in exchange for Cuffy's information about the Brown killing.
The task force member said the deal was presented as the only way to get to Dorsey, their prime target in the investigation. He said Cuffy's cooperation means he will "be allowed to take a walk" on any criminal charges.
District Attorney J. Tom Morgan says he was targeted for death by the same people responsible for killing Brown. Morgan said others, who are not elected officials, were also on a hit list, but he would not identify those people. Morgan said he found out about the list about two weeks ago. He then was placed under 24-hour guard and began wearing a bulletproof vest while in public.
Keith Adams, Cuffy's attorney, said he will seek today to have Cuffy released on bail pending a sentencing hearing.
Possible corruption at the jail, including drug dealing, were among the interests of Derwin Brown, who was gunned down in his driveway Dec. 15, three days before being sworn in as sheriff.
Although prosecutors initially denied they made a deal with Cuffy to downgrade the murder charges in exchange for information in the Brown slaying, it was widely speculated by some defense attorneys that a deal existed.
Dorsey's lawyer Dwight L. Thomas had said he believed Cuffy cut a deal with DeKalb authorities to implicate Dorsey.
"From the very beginning police have created a political suspect. Now you have, because of his need for personal survival, Patrick Cuffy getting in bed with the police and fabricating speculation about Dorsey. Law enforcement is allowing Cuffy's manipulation to get the pressure off of them."
Thomas said that DeKalb prosecutors put pressure on Cuffy by saying they are pursuing drug dealing charges against him.
"Cuffy has seen a window to climb through after being confronted with his own wrongdoing that had nothing to do with Sidney Dorsey," Thomas said. "But outside of what Cuffy has said, you won't have anything else linking Sidney Dorsey to the horrific event that occurred in Derwin Brown's death. My sympathy goes out to Derwin's family but also to Sidney's family. Both familes have suffered a tragedy."
Brown's widow, Phyllis, said, "I want to know why. That's all I want to know."
The surprising arrests come after months of slow movement in the case, which the district attorney said last summer was "stalled."
But police at a 4:30 a.m. news conference said they never waivered in their belief they would solve a mystery that has captivated and troubled metro Atlanta residents for nearly a year.
"We've been standing here and telling you we would get to the bottom of this case," DeKalb Police Chief Eddie Moody said. "There are still a lot of other things that have to be done."
Police and prosecutors refused to answer questions about a motive or describe each man's alleged role in the slaying. No weapon has been found, despite for a $10,000 reward for the gun, which police said was a semiautomatic weapon.
Asked what it felt like to arrest a law enforcement officer for the slaying of a lawman, Moody said, "It makes us feel a little lost, a little sad. But our job is when people commit crimes to seek them out and bring them to justice."
DeKalb police arrived at the homes of the three men between 2:30 and 2:45 a.m. Walker and Ramsey were arrested at their homes, in Conyers and Lithia Springs, respectively. When a police officer went to the East Atlanta home of Dorsey, Dorsey's wife, Sherry, answered the door and said he was not at home. A short time later, Dorsey and his lawyer, Brian Steel, appeared at DeKalb police headquarters, where Dorsey surrendered.
Moody said he'd contacted Brown's widow, Phyllis, and other members of Brown's family.
"My initial reaction when I found Derwin in my driveway was, Sidney did it," Phyllis Brown said this morning. "Now, I hope it is over. I really just hope it is over."
Brown said that while she did not ask police to keep her up-to-date on the investigation, she did want to know the outcome.
"Because I am a cop's wife...all I want to know is, who did it, when they did it and why they did."
Derwin Brown's brother said he was pleased to learn of the arrests. But he believes there are more conspirators still at large.
Ron Brown, speaking by phone from New York, said, "I think it's pretty clear that the conspiracy goes much deeper. And total justice will not be served until the root of the corruption in DeKalb County, which has perpetuated this crime as well as others, is exposed and eliminated. That is the charge to the people of DeKalb County. They can be satisfied with a Band-Aid or they can go in and cut the cancer out."
Ron Brown reiterated his call for a federal investigation into corruption in DeKalb.
"I really believe that's what my brother would want. What he lived and died for was justice and the pursuit of the truth, and it doesn't stop with the apprehension and conviction of these thugs."
Ramsey, who is from the Virgin Islands, is a boyhood friend of Cuffy's, another former deputy who repeatedly called himself a target of Brown homicide investigators.
In interviews in the weeks after Brown's slaying, Dorsey repeatedly denied any involvement. In one television appearance, he said the people responsible "should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And I mean capital punishment."
Dorsey's criminal lawyer, Brian Steel, said his client will be vindicated.
"This is one of the darkest days in the legal system of the state of Georgia," said Steel. "Former sheriff Sidney Dorsey is truly incapable of committing this horrendous crime."
Friends and supporters of Derwin Brown welcomed news for the arrests.
"It makes me feel good to know they have someone in custody," the Rev. Dolly Mahone, of East Atlanta, said of Dorsey's arrest. "What would make it even better is if they can make the charges stick."
Others were more restrained.
"I certainly, as an attorney, value the fact that the people that are arrested are innocent until proven guilty," said Atlanta City Councilmember-elect Natalyn Mosby Archibong, who defeated Dorsey's wife, incumbent Sherry Dorsey in the November election. "I am very happy to see such strong progress in the case.
"Maybe it's over," Archibong said, "and maybe that will give us some closure.
Dorsey was under investigation for allegedly using on-duty deputies to work for his private security company and for letting jail inmates work in a home repair program run by his wife.
Brown told 38 department employees they would be fired when he took office Jan. 1.
Reaction from Dorsey's East Atlanta neighborhood included that of Archie Page, who was sweeping up at service station about a block from the Dorseys' home: "God bless, him I wish him the best. I hope he didn't do it, but if he did, he has to face God."
Staff writers Mae Gentry and Maurice Tamman contributed to this article.