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Elected county sheriff calls himself crime fighter facing charges

A Clayton County, Georgia, sheriff who won election by calling himself a crime fighter is facing criminal charges of his own. The newly elected sheriff took the oath of office and started his job even though he is facing 32 felony counts, which include racketeering and theft charges. Whether he will continue to be allowed to serve as sheriff while the charges remain unresolved is not entirely certain at this point. His trial was delayed after prosecutors appealed a judge's decision to dismiss five of the 37 original charges.

The governor's office stated it would take no action on a request by the Georgia Sheriff's Association to suspend the sheriff until the sheriff was in office. The association asked the governor to create a committee consisting of an attorney general and two sheriffs to determine if the sheriff should be suspended with pay while he is under indictment. The sheriff will continue to serve until the governor appoints a committee as requested, if he chooses to do so and that committee makes a recommendation to suspend the sheriff, and the governor agrees with that recommendation.

A criminal defense attorney for the sheriff stated the Sheriff's Association should just let the matter take its course. The reason is that the sheriff whether in office or not is without power to enforce the law since his certification has been suspended. The certification allows law enforcement officers to serve warrants and make arrests. The president of the sheriff's association said since the primary authority of any law enforcement officer is to make arrests and execute search warrants and the Clayton County sheriff lacks this authority he should step aside pending his trial.

The president of the association said the case and pending trial is casting a shadow over the office of sheriff unnecessarily. The accused sheriff and his defense attorneys have claimed the charges are motivated by politics, noting it did not begin until he announced his candidacy for sheriff. The charges are the result of a special grand jury investigation into allegations the defendant used county resources to buy personal items and take vacations. It also claims he assigned sheriffs' employees to work on his unsuccessful 2008 re-election efforts during working hours, among other charges.

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Clayton County sheriff takes office despite charges against him," Rhonda Cook, Jan. 1, 2013

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Nick Lotito & Seth Kirschenbaum

Former Federal Prosecutors

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