DeKalb sheriff election battle reaching climax
(DEKALB COUNTY, Ga.) -- Tuesday's special election for county sheriff will take place in the shadow of a massive investigation of murder and corruption, and is drawing attention from far beyond county voting precincts.
"Sheriffs from across the state and the country will be watching this race," said Terry Norris, executive vice president of the Georgia Sheriffs Association.
DeKalb residents will head to the polls to seek a replacement for Derwin Brown, a former DeKalb police captain who --- after winning election as sheriff over incumbent Sidney Dorsey --- was gunned down in his front yard Dec. 15, two weeks before he was to take office. Police have not named any suspects, but last week arrested two men on charges that they lied to police investigating the murder.
Former DeKalb Public Safety Director Thomas Brown was appointed to replace Derwin Brown until Tuesday's election. Thomas Brown, who is a candidate in Tuesday's election, and Derwin Brown are not related.
Most sheriff's departments aren't hotbeds of political scrutiny. Barring controversy, incumbents normally can hold their posts as long as they like, said Gwinnett Sheriff Butch Conway, because, ideally, voters view them as typical "good cops."
"I think people want to support their sheriff. They see the sheriff as a protector. I'm sure they're hoping he's honest and doing a good job," Conway said.
However, the DeKalb sheriff's department is no stranger to rapid turnover, special elections and controversy. Two previous sheriffs, Lamar Martin and Pat Jarvis, were convicted of criminal charges --- Martin for bribery and Jarvis for a kickback scheme. And Dorsey is being investigated for allegedly using on-duty deputies to staff his private security firm.
District Attorney J. Tom Morgan has been given the authority to empanel two grand juries, one to investigate Derwin Brown's murder and the other corruption at the jail.
"DeKalb has got such a poor history," Conway said. "We've all got such a stake in DeKalb having a good sheriff. One bad sheriff can make 158 (Georgia sheriffs) look bad."
Given the high profile of the race, DeKalb election officials expect a larger-than-usual turnout on Tuesday. Campaign signs have sprouted with the Bradford pear trees throughout the county. In these last remaining days of the campaign, voters can expect a final onslaught of phone calls, rallies, barbecues and forums.
In addition to Thomas Brown, the candidates are Le'Roy Battle, Joe Bembry, Geraldine Champion, Juliet De La Cruz, Harold Dennis and Roosevelt Smith.
Thomas Brown, 48, of Decatur, has far outpaced his rivals in campaign contributions, with $143,634 raised. His closest rival in attracting donors is Georgia Perimeter College Police Chief De La Cruz, 37, of Pine Lake, who's raised more than $12,000. Behind her is former Atlanta homicide detective Geraldine Champion, 60, of Lithonia, with more than $9,000.
Battle, 60, of Stone Mountain, is a former Columbus police officer, state trooper and U.S. Department of Labor senior investigator. Bembry, 50, of Decatur, is a tow service owner/operator and frequent DeKalb political candidate. Dennis, 30, of Decatur, was a Stone Mountain police officer, Clark Atlanta University police officer, Fulton County deputy and DeKalb County reserve deputy lieutenant.
Smith, 47, of Lithonia, was a DOT transportation enforcement officer, Henry County Sheriff's Office narcotics officer, Morehouse College police sergeant, Clark Atlanta police lieutenant and Jonesboro police lieutenant.
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