For all the bombastic rhetoric on social media, turnout is typically light so far in the special election runoff for Clayton County Sheriff. Interim Sheriff Levon Allen is facing Clarence Cox, a former CCSO deputy who is now the chief investigator with the Fulton County Solicitor General’s Office in Atlanta.
Polls close today, Tuesday, April 18, 2023 at 7 p.m.
You must cast your ballot at your local precinct, which you can look up on the Georgia Secretary of State’s My Voter Page at mvp.sos.ga.gov. Here is the latest precinct list from Clayton County Elections and Registration:
As in the primary, voters in Jonesboro who usually cast ballots at JB05 (First Presbyterian Church of Jonesboro, 1842 Lake Jodeco Road) will need to vote at the Historic Courthouse (121 S. McDonough Street, 2nd floor in Annex 2, which is connected to the rear of the main courthouse) instead:
Polls will close at 7 p.m. today.
Why this election matters
The election is largely a referendum on former sheriff Victor Hill, who has vocally backed Allen throughout his trial and sentencing on six counts of civil rights violations in the Clayton County Jail. Allen, a relative newcomer to law enforcement with some disciplinary issues from his time as a Dekalb County corrections office, almost lost his POST certification when he was charged in a domestic dispute. Allen pleaded to a lesser count, which allowed him to take a job as a CO at the Clayton County Jail. Hill took him on as a project and quickly advanced Allen through the ranks at CCSO. Videos introduced into evidence at Hill’s federal civil rights abuses trial show Allen was at Hill’s side and carried out orders to strap detainees into jailhouse restraint chairs without cause.
Four former law enforcement officers ran against Allen in the primary, with Cox and Allen advancing to today’s runoff. Cox put together a broad coalition, including various Lake Spivey community pillars, former Clayton County sheriffs Stanley Tuggle, Kem Kimbrough, former Clayton County Police chief and now Chairman Jeff Turner, well-known community activists, union endorsements, and numerous law enforcement officers, attorneys, and corrections industry officials.
The Cox camp sees this election as a chance to clean up the mess left by Hill’s abuse and Allen’s inexperience, particularly where the jail is concerned. Cox has promised a forensic audit and a top-to-bottom jail shakedown if elected.
The Allen camp sees the race as already in the bag and runs CCSO the way Hill did—ignoring reporters and the general public, while creating an echo chamber of fervent loyalists. Allen has spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on billboards and on adding his name and image to CCSO’s fleet, saying through third parties that those are recruiting, not campaign, expenses.
Election campaign recap
Multiple community forums popped up all over the county, with all four challengers soldiering through the repetitive question-and-answer format put on by each church and civic group, but Allen never showed up for a single one.
This angered some community leaders, among them NAACP Clayton Branch President C. Synamon Baldwin.
“Allen stated to one of our members that he did not have to come because he already had it [the election],” Baldwin told The Clayton Crescent. “He was invited along with everyone else and we never received a response and we didn’t expect one after he told a member that he didn’t have to ’cause he already had it.
“Robin, over the years, we have received hundreds of complaints regarding mistreatment of inmates, deaths of inmates, and intimidation of inmates. Many people are afraid to follow up on their complaints due to fear of reprisal,” she continued. “They often just leave who have the ability to do so. We have lost some great citizens due to all of the corruption and intimidation from the present sheriff’s department. The people are asking for change. I hope they put their money where their mouth is.”
Baldwin shared the NAACP Clayton Branch’s report card from the candidates’ forum held in Forest Park during the primary. (The Clayton Crescent does not endorse candidates.) NAACP Clayton Branch members ranked each candidate—on clarity, details, and overall presentation—from 0 to 5 as follows:
|CANDIDATE (PRIMARY)||NAACP CLAYTON BRANCH RATING|
|Levon Allen||No show|
The candidates were then given an overall grade. Cox earned a B+ from the NAACP Clayton Branch, while Allen earned an F:
|CANDIDATE (PRIMARY)||NAACP CLAYTON BRANCH GRADE|
During the primary, the four challengers sometimes joked about which one would win the sheriff’s race and hire the others on the panel. After Cox won the primary, Storey threw his endorsement behind Cox and urged his supporters to do likewise.
Closing the ranks
A week after the primary, the Cox campaign called a press conference on the front steps of the Harold R. Banke Justice Center. An eye-popping assortment of former Clayton County sheriffs and police chiefs showed up, along with well-known citizen activists like Mickey Garber, Attania Jean-Funny, and Oretha Ensley and victims of Hill’s abuses of power, like Robert and Gerrian Hawes and Cleve Jackson, who had spent time in the infamous restraint chair and showed up for every single day of Hill’s trial even though he was not a defendant.
As the group assembled, a drone, presumably from the sheriff’s department, hovered overhead. A woman on a nearby bench came over to raise her fist and declare her loyalty to Allen, Hill’s protege. The group waved her off, with someone telling her to try her luck at the bail bonds place across the street—a dig at Hill, who is rumored to have control over the bail bonds companies that want to do business in Clayton County and which have lined up to support Allen.
Online, Hill’s social media minions mobbed anyone who dared to express any opinion other than total support for Allen and Hill. Allen did not make his campaign visits to senior centers and local parks known until after the fact.
Cox supporters mocked a photo of Allen playing touch football with kids in Forest Park’s Starr Park with what appeared to be an unholstered pistol stuffed in his waistband.
Allen backers sent out a series of images depicting Hill’s political enemies as Cox allies and alleged various acts of corruption. A particularly vicious Facebook video portrayed Turner and then-Jonesboro-soon-Forest Park-City-Manager Ricky Clark as lovers. Clark, who says he has never made a secret of the fact that he is gay, ripped Donald “Dee Cee” Craddock, over the animation. Craddock, a Hill ally who regularly attacks Hill’s political enemies on his Internet radio talk show and on social media, apologized to Clark.
Cox’s camp met up at the Southlake Harley Davidson clubhouse for door-knocking and canvassing, but the day was a wash with strong downpours and dark skies. The campaign pivoted to telephone banking and driving an LED panel truck through various neighborhoods.
A death in the family
One week before the election, Allen’s father died. The Cox camp immediately issued condolences and, as a sign of respect, suspended campaigning the day of the funeral. Services were held at Now Faith Apostolic Ministries, a church run by C. Harrison Braddy across from the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center, a heavily-trafficked early voting spot. Braddy owns the Lake Spivey Golf Club (through a series of corporations) and is an associate of former CCSO Chief of Staff Mitzi Bickers and Pirouette Companies CEO Keyla Jackson. The club had become a hangout for the Bickers crowd, recently hosting “18 Holes for Heroes,” a charitable golf tournament put on by District 1 Commissioner Dr. Alieka Anderson to benefit first responders. (Bickers was spotted working at the club during the Women of Clayton County’s investiture ceremony before she reported to FCI Marianna to serve her federal sentence for her role in Atlanta City Hall’s bribery scandal.)
Credit where credit is due
The same week, The Clayton Crescent broke the news that a grand jury had returned a 64-county RICO indictment against dozens of alleged gang members and one security specialist at the Clayton County Jail. A few hours later, CCSO issued what amounted to a campaign speech on the county-funded emergency notification service, Nixle, claiming Allen had done the investigation and presented the case to the DA’s office. District Attorney Tasha Mosley immediately called a press conference and contacted other reporters to correct the misinformation. Mosley said one of her investigators developed the case and that her office had cracked it after months of late nights and weekends.
Don’t mess with Mr. Mickey
The Sunday before the election, Mickey Garber, a longtime farmer and fixture at Board of Commissioners meetings and whose particular peeve is litter, was removing Allen campaign signs from his property line in Rex. According to Garber, a woman in a minivan began shooting cellphone video f him and yelling, “I gotcha! I gotcha now!” Garber told The Clayton Crescent he invited the woman to drive onto his property and have “a civilized discussion,” but that she drove off.
The next day, Hill’s social media accounts began spreading the photos, along with the assertion that Garber had been stealing signs and breaking the law. Soon, tipsters began calling The Clayton Crescent, claiming that CCSO had issued a warrant for Garber’s arrest. We asked the warrants office but they said they didn’t find a warrant for Garber. We also dropped by Allen’s office to confirm, but he was out, so we left a Post-It note with someone subbing at the receptionist’s desk, seeking comment.
We then went to see for ourselves whether Garber was being arrested or not. The driver of a black SUV. parked in the driveway of the church across from the farm, appeared to be photographing us as Garber walked the property line. We pointed our camera at them and they sped off.
At his farm, Garber told The Clayton Crescent he had lived there for over 70 years, was well familiar with state regulations about where campaign signs could go, and was well within his rights to remove the Allen signs placed there without his permission. (Garber had given permission first to Dwayne Fabian, then to Cox, to place signs along his property.)
Garber also denied that he had thrown Allen’s signs in the trash, as Hill had falsely claimed, showing The Clayton Crescent a neat stack of Allen signs, alongside those of Dwayne Fabian and from Regina Deloach’s last campaign.
Garber doesn’t do the Internet. “Tell Regina she can come get her signs if she wants them.” he said.
News of the skirmish enraged Garber’s friends, who lit up social media and rang his flip phone off the hook, wanting to make sure he was OK and hadn’t been carted off to the infamous Clayton County Jail.
The night before the election, two cities were taken by surprise when CCSO Assistant Chief Deputy Brandon Criss, who had been serving with other Hill command staff members as purported bodyguards for the three Hill-allied county commissioners, was named Forest Park police chief with Anderson, Craddock, Allen, and several CCSO deputies present. Forest Park also summarily canceled City Manager Dr. Marc-Antonie Cooper’s contract, named Planning Director James Shelby as interim city manager, and announced that Ricky Clark was the sole candidate for Forest Park city manager.
Meanwhile, Clark tendered his surprise resignation during a special called meeting at Jonesboro City Hall. The move caught citizens by surprise and left the Jonesboro City Council—which has relied heavily on Clark’s executive skills for years—in tears.
Forest Park city officials and the Allen crowd rejoiced.