By Ed Brock
Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle will soon ride into the sunset after wearing the star-shaped badge for nearly 32 years, eight of those as sheriff.
Last week Tuggle's friends and deputies filled the parking lot of the Kiwanis Club building in Forest Park, taking advantage of the chance to shake the hand of the county's 19th sheriff who took the office in 1996. It was a night for exchanging terse smiles and crystal tokens of appreciation, a night for stories from employees and friends.
"We have had the distinct pleasure to work for a man who has set an example for us that we cannot match," said Chief Deputy Shelby Foles, who is also retiring from the department.
Foles presented Tuggle with a glass trophy, embedded with a "challenge coin" that pays tribute to Tuggle's service.
"This piece of glass and this coin don't come close to conveying how we feel," Foles said.
Born in the town of Commerce, Tuggle is a life-long resident of Georgia and has been a resident of Clayton County for 35 years. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1969 to 1973 and joined the Clayton County Sheriff's Office after that. He worked his way up through the ranks from deputy to chief deputy and then finally sheriff.
During his two terms as sheriff, Tuggle has attended the Georgia Sheriffs Elect Academy, administrative courses from the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville and other courses at Clayton College & State University. He managed a 350-plus member staff with a budget of more than $25 million and oversaw the department's transition into its new jail and offices at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center in Jonesboro.
Tuggle took office at a time when the office was beset by lawsuits and having trouble with bonding companies that owed large sums to the office for suspects out on bond who failed to appear in court.
"We've turned all that around," Tuggle said, calling that his best accomplishment. "And we have a state-of-the-art new facility. All that together is quite an accomplishment."
If he had regained the office, Tuggle said, he would have tried to increase the office's community involvement through special programs like the "Stop Alcohol Violations Early" and "Deputies Riding In Vehicles Evaluating Students" programs that dealt mostly with middle and high school students.
"We were well-embedded in the schools," Tuggle said. "But we were hoping to do more in the senior citizens community and the neighborhoods."
Community involvement is something he advises his successor, Sheriff-elect Victor Hill, to pursue, as well as the need for the department to grow in the areas of manning the county jail and serving warrants.
"All that is picking up as more people move into the county," Tuggle said.
Tuggle discounted the impact that the county's recent decision to move the office's Crime Scene Investigation Unit to the county police department will have on Hill's authority. Hill has threatened to sue the county over that decision made during a commission meeting on Dec. 7. He said Tuggle and the commission made the move out of vindictiveness.
"That was something we talked about for years and years," Tuggle said. "It doesn't take any authority from him."
That's because the CSI Unit doesn't have any authority over the crimes it investigates, Tuggle said, but merely provides a service to the other departments that are handling the investigation.
As for retiring at age 55, Tuggle said he's not sure what he'll do, be it traveling or working some other job. But he is quick to attribute his success to his staff.
"The sheriff is just one man. The sheriff's office is operating 24 hours a day," Tuggle said. "You can't do that by yourself. You can't run the office of sheriff by yourself."