Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Residents had a chance to listen to Clayton County candidates — mostly those running for sheriff and district attorney — respond to tough questions from Forest Park’s Teen Council.
Candidates fielded tough questions Tuesday night from Forest Park Teen Council on subjects as diverse as the application of the death penalty and a backlog of criminal warrants.
Five of eight candidates seeking the office of sheriff of Clayton County participated in the event, as did District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson and her challenger, Leslie Miller Terry. Lawson is seeking a second term but has worked in Clayton County for nearly 30 years as a prosecutor and Juvenile Court judge.
Terry served one term as solicitor general of Clayton State Court before losing a re-election bid to Tasha Mosley. Mosley is running unopposed.
Lawson is hoping the work she’s accomplished during her first term in office will be enough to sway voters to give her four more years.
“We have prosecuted more than 100 murder cases in three years,” said Lawson. “We have collected $25 million — yes, that’s million — in child support for the children of Clayton County. We do have a pre-trial intervention program for non-violent offenders who deserve a second chance and we’ve had almost no repeat offenders from that program.”
Lawson’s office, in cooperation with Mosley, has created educational videos aimed at students to warn them of the danger of criminal activity and its consequences. An anti-bullying video is being made this summer.
“I know what I’m doing, we’re getting results and I want to return for a second term,” said Lawson.
Terry said she wants to see “fair and balanced” prosecution.
“We have to be proactive rather than reactive,” she said. “I want to bring community prosecutors to Clayton County, to have a prosecutor in every city in Clayton County.”
One of the teens’ questions dealt with the death penalty and its unbalanced use among the races. Lawson hit the issue head-on.
“When I took office, we had 10 death penalty cases, all blacks, nine males,” she said. “I withdrew the death penalty on them all and got life without parole in those cases. Death penalty cases cost millions to see successfully all the way through and there is only a 20 percent chance the defendant will even be executed.”
Terry agreed but focused on those falsely accused.
“We have to be very careful in how we apply it,” said Terry. “Some are so evil, it may apply but we have to be aware that there are falsely accused people on death row.”
Eight men and women are seeking the office of sheriff of Clayton, including incumbent Kem Kimbrough and former sheriff Victor Hill. Hill is under a 38-count criminal indictment for activities that allegedly occurred during his one term, 2005-2008. Despite his legal battles, Hill has vowed to re-seek the office he lost to Kimbrough in 2008.
Kimbrough did not attend the forum. Sitting alongside Hill were Jon Antoine, Tina Daniel, Lawrence Ethridge and Rica Wright. Candidate Ricky Redding’s wife, Angela Redding, read a statement from him expressing apologies that a work conflict kept him from attending.
Antoine said he wants to be sheriff because he is tired of Clayton County being the “joke reel” on the evening news.
“We need to stop being the joke of the state,” he said.
Daniel pointed to the duplication of services provided by the sheriff’s office and the police department and a backlog of warrants.
“The office needs to stop wasting taxpayers money,” she said. “I am the only candidate who has worked in the sheriff’s office. I spent more than 13 years there, with 17 overall in law enforcement.”
When Hill took office in January 2005, he famously fired 27 deputies, after posting snipers on the courthouse roof. The deputies hired an attorney and sued for their jobs and back pay. Daniel was one of those deputies. The group prevailed over the county and returned to work. The lawsuit cost Clayton County taxpayers millions of dollars and set the tone for Hill’s administration.
Ethridge told the group that his goal is to have a sheriff’s office that operates 24 hours a day. Ethridge served under Hill as a high-ranking deputy.
“We need to be serving warrants, keeping the jail safe and clean and the courts need to have a comprehensive security plan,” he said. “I understand service, the sheriff needs to be a servant. I want a citizens review panel and to remove the mobile units from outside schools.”
Hill said, if elected, the office will return completely to the way it was during his first term.
“I drew a clear line in the sand,” he said. “Criminals knew not to tread in Clayton County when I was sheriff and they’ll know not to again.”
Hill and Daniel agreed that burglaries are the No. 1 crime in the county. Both agreed that a task force may be the answer.
“We need a task force to deal with truancy,” said Hill. “Every day, we need to make sure we have truants on the run so when you get home from work, your flat-screen TV will still be there. I had specialized units when I was sheriff. When I return, they will all be restored.”
Daniel favors a multi-jurisdictional task force to include all the municipalities and the district attorney’s office to reduce the number of burglaries.
“The recidivism rate is out of control,” she said. “We’ve got the same people committing the same crimes over and over again. We need to get that rate down.”
She also favors returning the School Resource Office program back to the individual municipalities. Clayton County school Superintendent Edmond Heatley put the program in the hands of the sheriff’s office several years ago.
“Forest Park police know Forest Park students,” she said. “Morrow police know Morrow students. It just makes sense.”
Wright said she’s been in law enforcement since 1989 and moved through the ranks to become the first female major over the Clayton County Jail.
“That office needs organization and management,” said Wright. “I know how to organize and manage. In order to serve, you must be a leader. Leaders are not born, they are built.”
Wright said she’d also like to implement a citizens review board.
“Without the community with you, we don’t know how to be proactive,” she said. “I know we’ve had task forces in the past. We need to bring them back.”
Antoine said he also sees value in task forces but would like to add one that targets human trafficking.
“We are losing our daughters at an alarming rate in Georgia,” he said. “They are being preyed on by men and women.”