I am forced by circumstances to compare Sheriff Jeffrey Mann of DeKalb with another local sheriff who found himself facing public ignominy: Victor Hill.
As we hear calls for Mann to resign in the wake of an embarrassing arrest in Piedmont Park, it’s probably instructive to remember that two years and a week ago Hill shot a woman and remains sheriff. The Clayton County sheriff was showing Gwenevere McCord “police tactics” while in a model home in Gwinnett when he shot her … by accident. She lost a kidney, spleen and part of her large intestine.
Mann isn’t going anywhere.
Hill pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless conduct. A year later, Hill was re-elected in a massive landslide. In March, Georgia POST suspended Hill’s certification for two years. It does not affect his tenure as sheriff, I am surprised to learn. Elected sheriffs generally do not lose their jobs because of misdemeanors.
Mann took over after Thomas Brown resigned to run against Congressman Hank Johnson. Brown lost a polite, intense primary, but not before becoming the first sheriff in a generation to walk out of office on his own feet after four prior sheriff’s criminal charges and the assassination of his predecessor.
Mann has had a few hiccups in the administration of his office. A challenger raised questions about the administration of the jail’s inmate account fund last year, and while there may be something there, I haven’t been able to substantiate it. Similarly, an office staffer sued the sheriff in 2014, alleging that he asked her to work on his campaign during company time. That case is still in motions in DeKalb Superior Court.
A man charged with fraud managed to escape from the courthouse last year, followed a few months later by a murder suspect walking away from a trial while the jury was out. Someone managed to shoot a rap video from cell block video.
Compare all of that to former DeKalb Sheriff Lamar Martin, sheriff from 1965 to 1972, who was convicted of fraud. Or his successor Ray Bonner, a Republican before his time in DeKalb, who faced federal indictment on mail fraud charges … and eventually a murder charge. Or Pat Jarvis, who did 15 months in prison and was fined $40,000 for pocketing as much as $200,000 in kickbacks. Or Sidney Dorsey, who will likely die in prison after ordering the assassination of his successor Derwin Brown.
There’s a history to this job in DeKalb, and given all of that I sincerely doubt anything will come of a nonviolent, no-victim arrest legally similar to a misdemeanor traffic violation. Context matters.
It is, perhaps, for that reason that there’s been no broad hue and cry from DeKalb’s political establishment for Mann’s resignation. Mann won the job because the public believed he would run the jail and court security without corruption. That appears to remain the case.
“These charges conflict with how I know this man,” DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond said in comments before the public this morning. “I encourage everyone to remember that the bedrock of our criminal justice system is that until proven guilty, a person should be considered innocent.”
State Sen. Fran Millar has asked for his resignation, of course. “I hope that Sheriff Mann resigns. When people are saying ‘DeKalb again – really,’ then it is in the best interest of our County for him to take this action,” he wrote on Facebook.
I note for the record that Millar made no similar statement when State Rep. Tom Taylor was arrested in a DUI last year after blowing .225 with a gun on his hip and foreign exchange students in the car. Taylor’s indiscretion is, arguably, more serious because of the lives he put in jeopardy. And yet, Gov. Nathan Deal convened no commission to explore Taylor’s suspension.
There are broader political and social questions to answer, given the nature of Mann’s arrest, of course.
I am, for the moment, going to make two suppositions. The first is that the arrest report accurately reflects what happened in Piedmont Park on Saturday night. The second is that the implication no one seems willing to say aloud is true — that Jeff Mann is probably gay or bisexual, or questioning, and has been thrust out of the closet by this arrest.
Mainstream media has been dancing around by relying on the euphemism in the police report about how Piedmont Park is a place “known for sexual acts after dark.” Piedmont Park is known for gay sexual acts after dark. Four other men have been arrested on similar charges this year, APD told Bill Torpy, and it used to be more like 40.
The gay and lesbian chapter of the Georgia ACLU formed in 1981 in part to confront police harassment of gay men at Piedmont Park. Police essentially wrote off a murder there in 2009 as the result of a gay victim’s cruising. The suicide of a black gay man in the park last year metastasized into a hoax conspiracy about the Klan lynching gay men there.
It’s easy enough in these supposedly-enlightened times to hear that a county sheriff might be gay and wait for someone to say something that’s actually controversial. It might be more controversial to hear a sheriff discriminates against gay men. After all, in one generation Atlanta’s police have gone from screening applicants to keep from hiring gay cops to having at least two police majors from the LGBT community.
However, police culture still struggles with LGBT issues. APD, pretenses to enlightenment aside, was using training material as late as 2010 that still described consensual gay sex as illegal and “unnatural” with comparisons to bestiality and coprophilia.
The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t appear to have this problem.
I am not one for forcing people in the public eye to make their sexual orientation public, and that is doubly true for people who have no record of hypocrisy on the issue. I have enough trouble outing people who are stealing public money or abusing their office without wondering who they’re having sex with.
I can’t help imagining the personal horror Jeff Mann may be going through, however. We live in an age of Grindr and Craigslist ads. Discreet hookups have never been easier or more accepted.
Could his personal concern about being exposed (figuratively) by a screen capture of a profile page or the trace of an Internet posting have been so great that Piedmont Park seemed a better option for intimacy? And again, assuming the allegations are true and the implication is valid, what does that say about how desperate he may have been to stay off the radar … and what the publicity of this arrest must mean to him now?
Consider that Mann was part of the exodus of high-profile political leaders in DeKalb who left New Birth Missionary Baptist Church after Eddie Long’s activities with young men came to light. Mann is at Berean Christian Church now, which is less overtly political but practices a relatively conservative theology on same-sex relationships.
Gay and black, even in Atlanta, isn’t always going to be met with warm feelings in public or in private. When Atlanta doesn’t scream its politics, it whispers. This arrest will test DeKalb. Will a challenger use the gay subtext of it to attack him? Would that backfire?
Sheriff Mann isn’t going to jail. He’s not going to be removed from office. The real question is whether voters will accept his apologies. We’ll see in three years.