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Criminal Sheriffs

On December 15, 2000, Derwin Brown was returning from a party when he was gunned down. He was holding flowers he had purchased for his wife, Phyllis, when assailants opened fire, striking him at least 10 times and cutting short his life at age 46.

Yet this was no run-of-the-mill shooting. There were four men charged for participating in the murder, and all of them were employees of the Sheriff’s Office in DeKalb County, Georgia, which includes the eastern portion of Atlanta and all of Decatur. They executed Brown at the direction of Sidney Dorsey, the county’s lame-duck Sheriff, who had recently lost his bid for re-election to Brown. Allegedly, Dorsey promised preferential treatment for his employees if he retained office after the hit.

The tenure of Dorsey, then 60, who served as sheriff from January 1997 until December 2000, was marred by allegations of corruption and sexual harassment. Brown was three days from assuming office and replacing him when he was murdered.

Patrick Cuffy, one of the deputies charged in the shooting, struck a deal with prosecutors and told them he had acted with other deputies at the direction of Dorsey. He explained that two deputies waited in the bushes for Brown to arrive, while another deputy was down the street in case the Sheriff-elect tried to escape. Cuffy was in the car that transported the deputies to and from the scene.

“My mission was to follow through with what Mr. Dorsey asked, and that was to kill Derwin Brown,” Cuffy said to The Los Angeles Times. Using the word “mission” in his statement was likely no accident, as he almost certainly saw this instruction from his superior officer as an order, not a request.

Dorsey was subsequently convicted for arranging Brown’s murder and received life in prison for his crime. Almost seven years after the murder, he admitted to ordering the hit but claimed he had called it off and had no knowledge it would be carried out. He claims he told Cuffy prior to the hit, “I was crazy. I was out of my mind. I want to move on with my life. Forget that”—the last statement making reference to the note Dorsey gave to Cuffy ordering the assassination.

Dorsey’s fall from power is not an unfamiliar one in the annals of American history. A powerful politician, also married to another successful politician—then-Atlanta councilwoman Sherry Dorsey—is caught up in allegations of sexual harassment and corruption, and thus begins a descent into madness that results in more unethical, and sometimes criminal, behavior.

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