When he was arrested six days ago for exposing himself and fleeing a police officer, DeKalb County Sheriff Jeff Mann labeled the incident a misunderstanding and vowed to clear his name.
He didn’t say when that was going to happen, or how. So far, he hasn’t said another word but has, through his attorney, parsed plenty of them as he faces a pair of investigations that could lead to his suspension or even removal from office.
Appearing at a press conference Friday, Mann stood silently by as his lawyer Noah Pines read an apology of sorts to the residents of DeKalb and the “dedicated men and women of the sheriff’s office.” The sheriff, serving his first full term as DeKalb’s top law enforcement officer, didn’t apologize for what he’s alleged to have done but rather for “the unfavorable light my arrest has brought on this county.”
“I’m fully aware that people want to hear from me and I understand that,” Mann said in the statement read by Pines. He continued that he’s maintaining silence at his lawyer’s behest.
Earlier in the day, Pines wrote a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal asking him to reconsider his executive order that appointed a panel to investigate and consider suspending the sheriff.
Though Mann is charged with indecency and obstruction violations, Pines wrote that those aren’t “criminal charges” that would authorize the governor to appoint an investigative committee.
“Sheriff Mann is not facing ‘criminal charges’ as defined by Georgia law; instead Sheriff Mann was only accused of violating city of Atlanta ordinances … which are not criminal charges,” Pines wrote.
But the state code also allows for the investigation of sheriffs for alleged misconduct in office or incapacity to perform the functions of their office, though Deal didn’t cite those reasons in his executive order.
“I think we’re going to keep seeing this sort of legal finagling to allow the sheriff to stay in his job,” said Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, past director of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, which requested the investigation of Mann.
“We understand the need to police ourselves,” said Sills, adding the sheriffs aren’t “picking on” Mann. “We call for an investigation every time something like this happens. In the past, governors haven’t always granted those requests.”
Mann also is being investigated by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. That could lead to the suspension or revocation of his license, which would result in his removal from office, said spokesman Ryan Powell.
Within DeKalb County — which, since 1972, has seen the careers of four of its previous sheriffs end following criminal inquiries — criticism of Mann has been muted.
“We’re disappointed any time law enforcement finds themselves on the wrong side of the law,” said Jeff Wiggs, president of the DeKalb Fraternal Order of Police.
Kathie Gannon, the presiding officer for the DeKalb Board of Commissioners, sidestepped a question about Mann, saying, “We have no control over this.”
“Part of what we are doing is keeping our eye focused on what we promised to do, which is move the county forward,” Gannon said. “That’s how we best cope with this.”
The sheriff is independent from the Board of Commissioners, though it does have oversight of his office’s $83.5 million budget.
DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond has yet to address the Mann scandal.
Meanwhile, former DeKalb Sheriff Thomas Brown has emerged as his hand-picked successor’s most prominent supporter, standing behind Mann at Friday’s press conference. Mann was Brown’s chief deputy and took over as sheriff in 2014 when Brown ran for Congress. Mann was elected in a 2014 special election and won a full four-year term last November.
Brown, the only DeKalb sheriff since 1972 who has not faced criminal charges, said his confidence in Mann is unshaken.
“This is an unfortunate incident, but I believe he can get past it,” Brown said. “By and large, people are forgiving once all the facts are known. … I’m satisfied he’s running a good operation. He’s still my sheriff.”
Brown was clearly staying on message, repeating a line from Mann’s statement released Friday.
“I let my staff know, and I want you to know, that I am still your sheriff and I hope to remain your sheriff,” read Pines, quoting his client. “I understand that I was elected by the voters of DeKalb County and I intend to continue to serve the people of this county. … I pledge to you that my only goal is to continue to do the work that you elected me to do.”
Sills said Mann owes his constituents an explanation about why he was in an area of Piedmont Park popular with men cruising for sex. And why, when confronted by an Atlanta police officer, he ran away.
“I know I’ve never been in Piedmont Park at night unless I had a warrant in my pocket,” said Sills, who earlier in his career worked as a police officer in metro Atlanta.
In his statement, Mann said that conversation will take place when his legal case is resolved.