Sheriff candidates discuss protests, support military-style weapons for Cobb sheriff’s office

Cobb Sheriff's Department vehicle at Cobb government office in article about sheriff candidatesCobb Sheriff's Department vehicle at Cobb government office (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

Two candidates running for Cobb County sheriff answered questions at a virtual forum Wednesday evening surrounding the protests of police brutality in Atlanta and around the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia asked Democratic Party candidates former Cobb County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant James “Jimmy” Herndon and Cobb County Police Department Major Craig Owens about the use of force, recruiting people of color into the Cobb police and more.

Gregory Gilstrap, another Democratic candidate and incumbent Republican Sheriff Neil Warren were invited to participate but did not.

Immediately, both candidates were asked about the nationwide protests against police brutality in support of George Floyd and other Black people killed by police.

Owens said that now is a trying time for law enforcement but that his heart goes out to the family of Floyd.

“We are facing a tough time based on some bad actions of officers [in Minneapolis], and it’s affecting everyone across the country,” Owens said. “We should be frustrated. We should express our concerns about how our Black males are being treated, and everyone should be frustrated about it.”

Owens also expressed concern about items being thrown at officers at the protests in Atlanta this past Friday and said the community must come together.

Herndon said he was watching the Atlanta protests with his children and thought it was important for them to see. He said protestors were exercising their First Amendment right and he did not believe the protests turned violent.

“There’s always some kids, some knuckleheads that’ll be out there just doing what they do and take advantage of what people are out there doing, and I think that’s what happened,” Herndon said. “I don’t want to call them violent protestors because of people looting … that’s just kids taking advantage of the cover of night to do what some kids will do.”

Herndon said a large issue with policing is training and is an aspect of why killings and protests continually happen.

The conversation shifted to police using excessive force.

Herndon mentioned the recent instance in which Atlanta police officers tased two Black college students and dragged them out of their car at a protest this weekend. Herndon said he has arrested fellow police officers for using force like that in the past and if elected, he would film disciplinary hearings of officers and have the public participate in disciplinary panels to hear their input.

Owens expressed support for a review board to investigate police excessive force. Asked if a similar situation were to occur with officers and students in Cobb like what happened in Atlanta, Owens said that he would work with Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes to charge officers who use excessive force.

Both candidates agreed that the Cobb sheriff’s office should have a force that reflects the racially and ethnically diverse Cobb community. Owens said that he was going to engrain himself within the community to recruit a greater diverse force.

“I want to make sure I go into my community first and try to hire within the community … I’m going to go down to the community and make contact with our local clergymembers and our local activists to spread the word that Cobb County sheriff is hiring,” Owens said.

Owens also said he would like to go to HBCUs and recruit students.

Amid the teargas, pepper spray, tanks and full-scale military equipment police departments and the National Guard have displayed and used on protestors since their outbreak, candidates were cautious about supporting the higher-grade weapons but still supported certain measures of crowd control.

Asked if military-style weapons are still needed at the Cobb sheriff’s office, Herndon said yes.

“Unfortunately, because they [the black market] sell them to the public [so] they can use against citizens, so yes,” Herndon said.

Owens said that teargas is needed for police departments and despite some weapons appearing to be of a military style, they are not actual military weapons.

“What we try to do is make sure we equip our deputies and officers with enough firepower to combat what the people in the streets are having … if the community is coming up with AR-15s we have to make sure we meet force with force,” Owens said.

Arielle Robinson is an undergrad at Kennesaw State University. She is the president of the university’s Society of Professional Journalists and an editor at the KSU Sentinel. She enjoys music, reading poetry and non-fiction books and collecting books and records.

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