By Mark Beardsley

Last week, this newspaper carried a fascinating, bizarre story about a man running for sheriff in Madison County who claims Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum conspired with other Jackson County Sheriff’s Office personnel to fabricate a story about an alleged affair.

David Larkins is a former JCSO investigator forced to resign after his relationship with a married coworker came to light. He is running for sheriff in Madison County, already putting up signs for a 2016 election cycle.

A source tipped off Madison County Journal editor Zach Mitcham about the resignation. Mitcham checked it out, found out it was true and confronted Larkins with the information, giving him a chance to tell his story, and published Larkins’ side of the incident. While JCSO has a taped recording of Larkins talking about the incident in an internal investigation, Larkins alleges that the voice on the tape is not his. He suggests Mangum and other JCSO investigators fabricated the tape to hurt Larkins’ campaign.

Mangum should demand that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation look into the matter, not because the allegations have any merit, but because anyone who would create such a tale to cover his own indiscretions should be stripped of his POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training) credentials and be ineligible not just for sheriff, but ineligible to be a law enforcement officer of any kind in Georgia.

And if we’ve slipped into a parallel universe and Mangum and her employees made the whole thing up — they should go to prison.

However, I see no signs we’re in a parallel universe to the real world, except possibly the upcoming elections in Nicholson, and even that weirdness does not rise to the level of Larkins’ incredible tale that JCSO made it all up to protect Madison County Sheriff Kip Thomas. Should we be open to the possibility that JCSO, in addition to finding a way to replicate Larkins’ voice, found a body double to sit down with investigators to make that confession? Does David Larkins have an evil twin who is also part of the conspiracy?

Not even the Obama birth deniers and sighters of Bigfoot would believe that story. Still, Larkins has accused our sheriff of an offense that, if true, would probably land her in prison and ruin her reputation. As bizarre and laughable as Larkins’ story is, there are people in Jackson County who will believe it and others, who know better, would spread it as gospel just for their own amusement. That is one reason the GBI should investigate.

Another is that having made the accusations, those claims deserve a fair hearing, a finding of truth or untruth, and be followed with appropriate punishment for anyone who has broken the law, lied in the course of an investigation or engaged in libel or slander.

Meanwhile, since Larkins was a Jackson County investigator, it seems likely that cases he worked on are yet unresolved. It’s hard to imagine that a defense attorney exists who would not seize on Larkins’ story as evidence that he is not a credible witness. If people who deserve to go to jail because of crimes they committed walk away, the whole community suffers.

Cops are part of the system of holding citizens accountable for their actions. That system also applies to former cops. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation should examine these incredible claims, determine whether anyone broke a law, and prosecute anyone who did.

I seldom wager, but I’d be willing to bet that person will not be Sheriff Janis Mangum. Not even in a parallel universe.

Mark Beardsley is the editor of The Commerce News. He lives in Commerce.

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