Even while fighting charges that he exposed himself in Piedmont Park and ran from police, DeKalb County Sheriff Jeff Mann suspended himself for one week.
Mann wrote in a memo to sheriff’s office employees Tuesday that his self-imposed suspension isn’t an admission of guilt. Instead, he said, it’s a penalty for his conduct.
In the memo, Mann wrote that he deserves the punishment because he needs to be held to a “higher standard” than his employees, who would be subject to internal discipline if they were arrested for similar offenses.
“The mere fact of placing myself in a position to be arrested is sufficient reason for this self-imposed discipline,” Mann wrote in the memo that was emailed to employees and obtained Wednesday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I cannot, in good faith, fail to take responsibility for the negative and unwanted criticism brought to this great agency and the county, and I apologize to each of you.”
Mann, who said his one-week suspension shouldn’t be construed as an admission of guilt, has rejected calls to resign from the office he was re-elected to in November.
He was arrested the night of May 6 on charges of indecency and obstruction, both city of Atlanta ordinance violations. An incident report said a police officer saw Mann expose himself and then flee when the officer identified himself and turned his flashlight on Mann. He was apprehended about a quarter-mile away after leading the officer on a foot chase through Midtown Atlanta streets.
Mann’s suspension only strengthens the belief of many DeKalb residents that he did something wrong, said Harold Dennis, a former reserve lieutenant in the DeKalb Sheriff’s Office who ran against Mann last year.
“Basically, he’s admitting guilt,” Dennis said. “He’s telling his officers and his deputies that he did commit misconduct for actions he did in the city of Atlanta. He should go ahead and retire and stop causing the citizens of DeKalb County further embarrassment.”
Mann wrote that he imposed on himself the maximum penalty for the infraction of engaging in conduct that “has a tendency to destroy public respect … or destroy confidence in the operations of the county service.” The normal penalty for a first offense of this infraction is written counseling, he wrote.
“I cannot ask my employees to abide by a code of conduct unless I am willing to subject myself to it as well,” Mann wrote.
But Dennis said he knows of several deputies who have been fired for lesser offenses, and they might file lawsuits to seek their jobs back.
Mann will serve his suspension from Saturday through June 4. Mann wrote he will donate the equivalent of one week’s pay to charities to be determined in the near future.
He’s also facing the potential for further sanctions.
Besides the charges, Mann is also being investigated by a panel appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal. Based on the panel’s findings, the governor could suspend Mann for up to 90 days, order an additional investigation by the GBI and ask the DeKalb district attorney to initiate proceedings to remove the sheriff from office.
Mann and his attorney are asking a judge to stop the investigation, saying Mann isn’t accused of any misconduct in his official capacity as sheriff. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Eric Dunaway has scheduled a hearing on the matter next week.
It’s unusual for a sheriff to suspend himself, said Terry Norris, executive director for the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association. He can’t recall another time it’s happened in the last 20 years.
“I presume what he’s doing is an attempt to treat himself like any deputy or employee,” Norris said. “He’s the holder of the trust of the public through the election process. The question is, what do the citizens of DeKalb feel about his decision to do this?”
Norris said Mann’s self-suspension likely has little relevance to the governor’s investigation.
For now, Mann isn’t going anywhere.
“I am committed to remaining your sheriff and restoring your trust in me,” Mann wrote in the conclusion of his memo.