ATLANTA | When a Georgia sheriff was accused of exposing himself in a park over the weekend, it was the latest in a string of embarrassments for the large county he serves that includes part of the city of Atlanta.
DeKalb County Sheriff Jeffrey Mann, 54, faces charges of indecency and obstruction of an officer. A police officer patrolling Piedmont Park, in midtown Atlanta, encountered him around 11 p.m. Saturday.
Mann exposed his genitals and masturbated as he walked toward the police officer in a part of the park “known for sexual acts after dark,” the report says. He then led the officer on a quarter-mile (.4-kilometer) foot chase before he stopped and began following the officer’s commands, the report says. The officer found two condoms in Mann’s pocket. Mann was released on bond.
Attempts by The Associated Press on Monday to reach Mann at phone numbers listed for him were unsuccessful, and the sheriff’s office did not return phone messages seeking comment. Mann told WSB-TV that the arrest was a misunderstanding and that he would clear his name.
It’s not the first time a DeKalb County sheriff has faced criminal charges. Former DeKalb County Sheriff Sidney Dorsey is serving a life sentence after he was convicted of ordering the December 2001 slaying of Derwin Brown, who had just unseated him. Brown had run on a promise of cleaning up corruption in the department.
More recently, DeKalb has seen a seemingly endless string of allegations of government corruption.
The former county CEO, Burrell Ellis, was found guilty in July 2015 of perjury and attempted theft by extortion after he was accused of pressuring vendors for campaign contributions. He served about eight months in prison and was released early before the state Supreme Court overturned his conviction on a technicality in November.
Other county officials have faced allegations of illegally spending county funds, bribery and other misdeeds, some of which led to charges against elected officials, county employees and contractors.
DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester called the allegations against Mann shocking and embarrassing. She said she’d be happy if the sheriff’s claim of a misunderstanding is true but said that if the allegations are factual, Mann would have a lot of challenges continuing to lead his department.
While the allegations against the sheriff don’t appear to have anything to do with abuse of his official position, they’re another stain on the county’s reputation, Jester said.
Damage to the county’s reputation can be just as damaging as government corruption, and in some ways it can be harder to repair, Jester said. It can harm economic development by scaring companies away from the county and erodes the citizens’ confidence in their government, she said.
“When things like this happen,” Jester said, referring to the one-two punch of the recent court decision on the ethics board and the sheriff’s arrest, “it just feeds into that distrust and makes governing more difficult.”
Mann, an attorney, was re-elected as DeKalb sheriff in 2016, two years after winning a special election to replace Thomas Brown, who resigned to run for Congress in 2014.
The case is being investigated by Georgia’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which certifies law enforcement officers in the state, said spokesman Ryan Powell. The sheriff could still serve if he were placed on probation, but not if his certification were suspended or revoked, Powell said.