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Death of a sheriff-elect in Georgia: A widow's tale
'I just want to know why'
DEKALB COUNTY, Georgia (CNN) -- Last Friday night, it was raining hard when the teenager looked out the window and saw his father walking up the driveway. Derwin Brown, a veteran cop who refused to carry a gun, was coming home from a victory party.
He was to be sworn in shortly as the new sheriff of DeKalb County, a large Atlanta suburb with a department long riddled with corruption and controversy. Brown had campaigned to clean it all up. His wife, Phyllis, was waiting to show him the new uniform he'd designed to symbolize the changes ahead. He never got to see it.
Suddenly, she heard what she thought were "firecrackers," she tells CNN, then realized they were gunshots. She reacted the way her husband had always taught her: She hit the floor, then cracked the front door, looked out and saw her husband.
Derwin Brown, 46, a veteran officer with the county police, was lying a few feet away. He'd just given his wife, Phyllis, a dozen roses, like he'd always done on her birthday since they married more than two decades ago. He was returning from a party nearby; they'd celebrated his underdog victory as the new sheriff of DeKalb County. He upset the incumbent sheriff in a bitter runoff by a 2-to-1 margin. He'd just completed his sheriff's training courses. While she left to go home, he stayed behind to thank supporters.
Brown never got a chance to carry out his campaign promises. Last Friday night, he was pronounced dead at the county trauma center. Eleven bullets had found their mark out of 16 fired from an automatic or semi-automatic weapon, say investigators.
Thousands of mourners attended funeral services for Brown on Thursday at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in southern DeKalb County.
A plea to 'hang on'
Who shot the new sheriff? That's what a local, state and federal task force is trying to find out. Plenty of people had motive: He was about to take over a $50 million department. Jobs -- and county contracts -- were on the line, officials say. No suspect has been named, but investigators tell CNN they have to rule out a list of at least 50 people he'd said were either going to be terminated or demoted.
The Browns had been married for 23 years and had five children. His family now lives in fear and with police protection. And Phyllis Brown says she fears for anyone who tries to take up where her husband left off as long as a killer is on the loose.
As for the investigation, sources tell CNN there are no suspects, no pending arrests. What investigators are doing, for example, is looking at forensics, analyzing phone records, local and cell phones. They say plenty of people were angry and stood to lose jobs and possible county contracts.
But the sheriff-elect also relented and planned to allow several people to whom he'd sent termination letters to keep their jobs, after they'd called to appeal. "He was a fair man, he was an honest man," says his wife. "He just had a dream, a vision to clean up the place, and I'm not going to let that dream die."
'I feel cheated'
Brown's wife tells CNN she knew he was dead the moment she knelt beside his body on the wet grass only feet from their front door. She begged him to "hang on, baby," even as she knew by looking into his eyes. "They weren't closed and they weren't open," she says, "they were just staring."
"I feel cheated," his wife remembers their son saying.
What do you mean? she asked through her own tears, trying to be tough, as she'd been taught she might have to be one day as the cop's wife she never wanted to be. "Dad got to see all the other kids graduate from high school," said the youngest of their five children, "but he won't get to see me."
Now all she wants is for the killer to be caught, she says, and ask him one question, face to face. "I just want to know why."
Prosecutor calls sheriff-elect's death a 'professional hit'
DeKalb County Department of Public Safety
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