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Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Murder, A Suicide: Connecting More Dots in the Culture of Corruption (Updated)

Sheriff Elect Derwin Brown

The 2000 election for Sheriff of Dekalb County was bitter and difficult. It pitted incumbent Sheriff Sidney Dorsey against policeman Derwin Brown. Brown ran on a platform of cleaning up the corruption in the Sheriff's department. Many times the fingers of corruption were pointed directly at Dorsey himself. Dekalb County Sheriff's Department had a long history of corruption and Dorsey himself was no stranger to criminality.

Dorsey became the county's first black sheriff four years ago despite publicity about his arrests for domestic abuse and a manslaughter charge he once faced.

Reports also surfaced that Dorsey assigned inmates to work on houses of supporters of his wife, an Atlanta city councilwoman.

Other reports accused him of allowing deputies to work for his security company while on the clock. And a female deputy filed a lawsuit saying that she was denied a promotion because she ended an affair with Dorsey.

Brown's campaign message resonated and the voters voted him in overwhelmingly with him winning roughly two to one. Brown would never get a chance to fulfill any of his campaign promises. On December 15th, two days before he was to be sworn in, he was gunned down in his drive way.

Within months several people within the Sheriff's department or at least with strong ties to it were arrested. Those people included Paul Skyers, Devon Edwards, Patrick Cuffy (ultimately fingered as the shooter) and Melvin Walker. The man that authorities finally believed to be the ringleader and ultimately the person that gave the order was none other than the Sheriff at the time of the murder at least Sidney Dorsey.

Everyone eventually flipped on Dorsey and spent minimal or no time in jail. Most of their whereabouts are currently unknown, and Dorsey was ultimately convicted about five years later. He serves a sentence of 25 years.

Like with much of the corruption around it, this case leaves many more questions than answers. If a sheriff and several of his deputies and their contacts killed the incoming sheriff, then to me at least, that is the culture of corruption at its worst. Why then did the next Sheriff Thomas Brown (no relation) not clean house as Derwin Brown promised. (Thomas Brown, who was the former public safety officer of Dekalb County, was then selected by then Governor Roy Barnes to be the interim Sheriff)

Fellow candidates for sheriff and confidantes of Derwin Brown blasted the sheriff when he declined to fire all of those targeted for termination by the murdered sheriff-elect, or to hire those previously promised jobs. Although he has dismissed some personnel, Sheriff Brown has been criticized, both before and after the special election, for not fully embracing those changes.

When he came aboard, said Brown, the department was uneasy; he thinks his decisions have helped calm things.

"There may have been some concerns when I came in," said Brown. "I made very few staff changes. There were a few personnel changes -- we did let some people go -- but the heart and soul of the people who built this facility are still here."

Whatever doubts anyone had that the Dekalb County Sheriff's Department had a systemic culture of corruption were tragically erased when its Sheriff elect was gunned down in a conspiracy involving several members of the department itself, including the top person. If ever there was a reason for wholesale house cleaning it was this tragic event. Yet, that didn't happen.

There was other things that raised my eyebrows. There were rumors of a hitlist. In fact, the prosecutor on the case J. Tom Morgan wore a bullet proof vest for safety. I was told that reporter (and current candidate for U.S. Senate) Dale Cardwell had a member of the sheriff's department sleeping in his house for a month because they felt he was a target. The motive for the shooting was said to be revenge. If there was a hitlist and other targets that wouldn't make sense. Was Dorsey really the ringleader or was this murder really the work of someone and something much bigger? Only the powers that be know that answer.

There was some media that wondered if Dorsey really was the ringleader. His family doesn't believe that all the perpetraters have been caught. To this day, his death and the events surrounding it continue to have more questions than answers. Much like most of the corruption in and around Dekalb County, whether its Grady Hospital, Emory University, or the Sheriff's Department, it always seems as though investigations only go so far before somehow, some way they end.

On August 26th, 2004, Charles Hicks, Dekalb County Attorney was found dead. The death of Charles Hicks was eventually ruled a suicide however I believe that this was another case in which there are more questions than answers. Ron Marshall, head of the Grady Coalition, was an acquaintance of Hicks. He told me that on many occasions he told him that he (Hicks) was concerned about all of the corruption that he was procuring. The first officer on the scene was one Donald Frank, a wily character that Marshall says he would run into again (and one I will get back to in a minute). The most damning piece of evidence was that the gun was found laying next to Hicks' right hand. This seems peculiar since Hicks was in fact left handed.

If Hicks was in the middle of a culture of corruption, and he wanted to get out, it would stand to reason that the powers that be would want him eliminated. It also stands to reason that the powers to be would have enough power to then cover up this same murder and turn it into a suicide. Of course, that is all mere speculation. Let's not speculate but rather look for patterns.

The Sheriff's Department had a culture of corruption that went back decades. Several of its sheriffs wound up on the wrong end of the jail cell.

Former Sheriff Pat Jarvis last year was sentenced to 15 months in prison and fined $40,000 for fraud. Ray Bonner, a sheriff in the mid-1970s, pleaded self-defense and was acquitted in the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy in his front yard. And Lamar Martin, the sheriff in the late 1960s and early '70s, was convicted of bribery.

Of course after that, the next sheriff in line went in for murder.

While this was going on at the Sheriff's Department State Senator Charles Walker was fleecing Grady Hospital for millions of dollars. The State Senator committed so much crime that by the time he was done he was charged with 137 felonies and ultimately convicted on all but ten. Of course, he flipped on NO ONE. No one else was charged and he got ten years, or less than a month for each felony conviction. Then, we have the mysterious death Charles Hicks.

Who is running Dekalb County? That would be Vernon Jones. Jones is no stranger to trouble. His name has wound up on the police blotter roughly six times. It started in the mid eighties and the last known incident was this past December. The charges range from assault to rape. He's never been convicted of any of these crimes mind you. He's had more than a few questionable land deals including a prime piece of property (that he apparently bought for 500k in cash. Not bad for someone that makes a 100k per year) right next to a mall that he authorized the building of.

Jones' re-election campaign took its first hit, as one of his opponents, state Rep. Teresa Greene-Johnson, tried unsuccessfully to get a court protection order against him. Greene-Johnson alleged that Jones berated and threatened her on a campaign stop

....Within days of each other, Jones lost two political allies. Commissioner Lou Walker died from injuries sustained in a car accident and Jones' deputy chief of staff, Lance Robertson, was arrested and charged with the false imprisonment of a 19-year-old woman after a night of drinking at the W Hotel in Dunwoody.

It was revealed that Robertson had a criminal past, including a shoplifting conviction, that county officials did not investigate before Jones hired him. Robertson, who has been suspended without pay, denies any wrongdoing in the W Hotel incident.Also in August, a federal lawsuit accused Jones and other county officials of discriminating against white employees. County officials denied the allegations.

That article merely describes a few months in 2004.
By 2006, Ron Marshall was challenging Jones for Dekalb County CEO. Jones introduced Marshall to hardball politics, Dekalb County style. Marshall told me that he was constantly followed throughout the campaign. There was background checks done on him, and he and his wife mysteriously wound up on the Homeland Security Terror Watch List. Only the powers that be know how that happened, however the director of Homeland Security for Dekalb County by this point just happened to be Donald Franks (yes the exact same one that also happened to be the first police officer on the scene of the Hicks death).
There is a Latin phrase, Res Ipsa Loquitor, and it means the facts speak for themselves. There is no question that Vernon Jones is part of the problem. Between the murder of a Sheriff elect, the fleecing of Grady Hospital, the harrassment of a candidate, and many other scandals in between, Res Ipsa Loquitor. Nothing has changed within the Sheriff's Department that occupies the County he is CEO of. Grady is now in desperate need of an infusion of cash or they will cease to exist, so nothing has changed there either. The facts speak for themselves: either he was in on it, he was too incompetent or too scared to stop it, he was asleep at the wheel, or something else. It ultimately matters not because there is no excuse for that much corruption to go on on his watch, Res Ipsa Loquitor.
So, what was Vernon Jones up to in 2008? He's running for U.S. Senate. No, I am not kidding. If this sounds familiar just read this.
I believe that in order to create a culture of corruption, you need the police the politicians, and the media to be in on it or at least looking the other way. I think you can all see how the police are in on it. I think through this piece and in my entire series you can see how the politicians are in on it. How is the media in on it? Well, ask yourself this question. Why is a blogger from the Midwest asking questions the media in Atlanta should be asking? I will leave you with the words of a hero, Derwin Brown.
There have always been a few who have stood up for the many, often at times when the many would not stand for themselves. Whether out of fear, intimidation, or ignorance there have always been those who ride the victories and sacrifices of others, cheering and celebrating as if they dared to make a difference. Yes, even some who would minister to you about God's power and the armor and shield that "the word" provides seem to falter in their convictions when it's time to "step out on faith" and challenge the unrighteousness found in their workplace, community or government. What sacrifice are you willing to make for truth and righteousness? Are you leading a double life, speaking of injustices in whispers, while exclaiming all your faith in the creator? These are questions for self-examination. Are you willing to pick up the drum of justice? "THE TIME IS NOW!! PEACE"
UPDATE: This story speaks for itself and I believe that if this is your first exposure to the crisis at Grady Hospital and the dynamics that surround it, you should still have no trouble understanding this piece. That said, I have put together a summary of the entire fiasco that tries to put all of its moving parts together in one piece. Please read it for guidance. Thus, if you want to see how Vernon Jones, Derwin Brown, et al fit into the mess at Grady Hospital please read the link I just provided. Also, please check out the recommendations that I and my colleagues have put together for fixing Grady Hospital.
Epilogue: Since this was first published, I have come into possession of some documents that detail the shady land deal to end all shady land deals, by the shady politician to top all shady politicians, Vernon Jones. Here it is.
UPDATE: On August 5th 2008, Vernon Jones lost a run off election to Jim Martin. Ironically, though not coincidentally, Dale Cardwell, took third in the original Democratic primary. (in Georgia rules, a majority is required to win and so that's what caused the run off) His future political plans are still undetermined at this moment. Jones was then replaced as CEO of Dekalb County by Burrell Ellis.
Since losing the election, Jones has kept a relative low profile. He surfaced in Albany, Ga. to speak to a group of law enforcement officers. This fueled rumors that he might run for mayor of Albany in 2012 though that appears to be a step back for Jones. I don't expect him to stay in private life for too long.

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