Jonesboro, Ga.- The special election for Clayton County Sheriff takes place Tues., March 21. On another Tuesday evening a few months before election day a candidate forum took place inside Tabernacle of Praise Church International on Tara Boulevard.
A long table was on a stage inside the church sanctuary with a large video monitor advertising that night’s sheriff’s forum. The evening’s moderator, Attania Jean-Funny made it clear that “all candidates were invited this evening.”
All five candidates – interim Clayton County Sheriff Levon Allen, Dwyane Fabian, Terry Evans, Clarence Cox and Chris Storey – were invited to Tuesday’s forum, which was co-sponsored by a number of local political organizations, including the Clayton County Democratic Party and Clayton County Republican Party.
Allen did not attend the forum. Allen was sworn in as interim sheriff a few days before last Christmas.
Who are the candidates?
Chris Storey was the first to take his seat inside of the sanctuary of the church. He has lived in Clayton County for 33 years and has decades of experience in law enforcement within the county. “One of the things I want you to know about me is that I’m very passionate about my job.”
Cox worked under former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill and the three sheriffs before him. He was the first chief of the Clayton County School Police department.
Fabian, a retired Georgia State Trooper, referred to himself as “Your law and order candidate.”
Evans, a former United States Marine, has nearly 30 years of experience as a law enforcement officer, jailer and corrections officer.
Show and tell
During the first few minutes of the forum there was a video of a WSB-TV report from a few days ago on a Clayton County jail inmate’s death. The video was approximately four minutes long and had all eyes, including the candidates, staring at the screen.
The first question from the panelist is how the candidates would try to make the jail safer for inmates? “One of the problems that we have right now is that we’re taking personnel out of the jail,” said Cox. “When I’m your sheriff I‘m going to make sure the jail is manned and safe for your family and loved ones when they come to the jail.”
Evans added,” You need a mental health staff, they have to be trained and if you do it the right way that kind of stuff won’t go on.”
All four candidates agreed that the jail needs to be fully staffed. Fabian took it a step further and said he would do a full sweep of the jail for foreign objects. “We can sweep the jail clean and then we can handle it from there,” he said.
Why you and not them?
The candidates were asked what distinguishes them from their fellow candidates. Cox said he was the only candidate that has been charged with creating and managing a budget. “And I created an agency from the ground up,” he said.
Fabian added, “I have seen the ins and outs of all jail operations. We all have the same compassion, but my having the experience of working in other countries sets me apart.”
My name is my name
A roar of applause came from the crowd when a panelist from the Clayton County Republican Party asked if the candidates care about having their names on the sheriff’s department vehicles.
“Those vehicles belong to you,” said Evans. “What do I look like writing my name on y’all stuff.”
“Why waste taxpayers’ dollars to put a name on the car to see who you are. The car needs to say Clayton County and Clayton County only.”
“Right now we don’t have a lot of transparency within the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office,” said Story. He said he would reinstitute the department’s public information officer in order for the public to get concerns directly to the sheriff.
“I would establish a citizen’s review board,” countered Fabian who said he would use the board to make a recommendation that he would then make a decision to suspend or terminate an officer. “That’s transparency,” he said.
And a child shall lead them
The Teens 4Justice and Youth4Change organizations were represented by Brianna Howard, a 10-year-old girl. Her question, the last in the first round of questioning, was simple and got directly to the point of the night’s forum. “Why do you want to be sheriff?,” she asked.
“Let me start out by saying it’s time to move forward and not backward,” said Evans. “I know I can do what needs to be done.”
“I want to be sheriff because I am a man of deep faith,” said Storey, who is married with three daughters. “I believe it’s more of a calling than a job. I want to make Clayton County right.”
Other topics of discussion included putting a stop to the schools to prison pipeline (another question from Howard), reducing domestic violence crimes, job training for inmates while they are incarcerated, mental health counseling for inmates and also making counseling available for corrections officers and sheriff’s deputies.
On domestic violence, Storey, who worked with the county’s stalking unit said, “We need to make sure we have resources for the victims and one of the things I’m going to do is develop a family center so we can put all of the resources in one building.” Storey shared a story about his younger sister being a victim of domestic violence during her marriage. He admitted that she did not share her situation with him because of what he did for a living.
In reference to the school to prison pipeline all four candidates agreed that a hands on model is best. “As law enforcement we have to let them know we are not the enemy,” said Evans.
“We have to really find a way to reach them and we really have to get the parents back to parenting,” said Cox on reaching kids. “We have to get back to the basics.”
There will be other candidate forums scheduled to take place, according to Jean-Funny.