DeKalb sheriff revises use of force policy, emphasizes minimum force

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DeKalb County Sheriff Melody Maddox

By Zachary Hansen

The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office has revised its policy on the use of force to “eliminate subjectivity” when deputies decide to use force in confrontations with the public.

The new policy bars deputies from relying on their “perception of resistance or danger when determining the level of force” to use during a confrontation, a news release said. The new policy states officers should use the minimum force necessary.

Chief Deputy Randy Akies told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the new policy leaves less leeway for deputies to decide the level of force is needed. The prior policy said, “Once a law enforcement officer determines that they must use physical force, the level of force used will be dependent upon the officer’s perception of resistance and danger of that resistance …”

Akies added that the only decision a deputy will now need to make is whether physical force is warranted at all, because they’ll always have to apply the minimum amount of force.

The sheriff’s office said that the policy’s revision will be incorporated in training programs, including a 20-hour course that will utilize a scenario-based simulator for detention officers at the county jail.

Sheriff Melody Maddox said in the release the policy revisions were the result of recommendations by the Community Commission for Police Review. Consisting of a dozen citizens and Akies, the commission was launched in June following weeks of widespread protests against police brutality and racism, which prompted law enforcement agencies around the country to reevaluate their procedures and training. Protests took place all over metro Atlanta, including large demonstrations in Decatur, Dunwoody and Stone Mountain.

“(The commission’s) input reflects a sincere concern for improving the ways our officers interact with the public and individuals in our custody in the execution of their duties,” Maddox said in the release.

In addition to the use of force change, the commission’s review resulted in additional penalties for misconduct by sheriff’s office employees. They can now be terminated for a first offense if they’re found to be untruthful or uncooperative when making a report or submitting testimony regarding an incident. They can also be fined if they fail to follow a “duty to intervene” policy in certain situations involving the use of force by other deputies.

Both the sheriff’s office and DeKalb County Police Department announced new oversight policies in the wake of George Floyd’s in-custody death in Minneapolis in May, which sparked protests across the country.

The sheriff’s office had one fatal shooting involving a suspect so far in 2020, which took place last month. Demarco Riley, a 27-year-old man wanted on a murder charge, was shot and killed by a deputy who working with the U.S. Marshals Service during an attempted arrest. Riley refused commands during a standoff, according to the GBI. The deputy has not been charged, and the GBI is investigating the use of force, which is customary for use-of-force incidents in Georgia.

Maddox has been sheriff since late last year, when she replaced Jeffrey Mann. Mann stepped down amid the battle over his law enforcement certification that followed his arrest on indecency and obstruction charges in Piedmont Park.

In August, Maddox won a runoff in the special election to fill the remainder of Mann’s term, which runs through the end of the year. The Democrat is also on ballots for Nov. 3′s general election, where she’s facing Republican Harold Dennis for the right to be DeKalb’s next full-term sheriff. The sheriff’s office runs the county’s jail, serves outstanding warrants and provides security at courthouses, among other duties.

— Staff writer Tyler Estep contributed to this article

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