Jonestown

I’m in a courtroom on the seventeenth floor of the Richard B. Russell US Courthouse Thursday.  Because it’s federal court, no cameras are allowed.

Vernon Jones hears a verdict ordering him to pay tens of thousands of dollars to two former DeKalb County employees who complained in court of a “racially hostile work environment.”  While court is in session, he bolts from his chair and heads for the exit.

I get up from my seat in the gallery and follow him out.  “Doug — stay away from me,” he growls.  There’s unmistakable venom in his voice.

AJC photo by Curtis Compton

Two other reporters, WAGA’s Aungelique Proctor and WGCL’s Bernard Watson approach Jones.  His body language is completely different, and he chats amiably with them.  I step toward them.

“Doug– if you don’t get away from me, I’m going to call security and tell them you’re harassing me.”  He walks away.  Proctor and Watson follow closely.  I hover from a short distance.  I haven’t uttered a word to Jones at this point.

Jones walks toward WSB’s Richard Belcher.  Again, the body language is friendly.  I tighten my orbit.  Jones:  “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to talk to you guys if Doug is around.  He’s got to stop harassing and intimidating me.”

I’m not making this up.  He’s standing next to Richard Belcher — the embodiment of a TV news tough guy.

And I’m intimidating him?

Finally, I pipe up:  “Dude, I haven’t seen you in five years.”  I misspoke — I had probably last seen Jones in 2006.  And yeah, for some reason I addressed him as “dude.”

Jones:  “And I hope it’s another five hundred years before I see you again.”

Belcher, Proctor and Watson convince Jones to speak to reporters outside the courthouse, where TV photogs are waiting.  Jones heads to an elevator.  A voice in my head tells me to jump on the elevator with Jones.   I decide against it, and grab another elevator to the plaza level.

Jones appeared outside the courthouse within a few minutes, then announced that he wouldn’t say anything until 10am the following day.  I fired two questions at him during the scrum.  Jones pretended not to hear them.

I got to know Jones during his tenure as DeKalb County CEO, a position of power that arguably exceeds that of Atlanta Mayor.  Jones was almost laughably controversial, except some of the details of some of those controversies aren’t at all funny.

  • He’d begun using police officers as a full time personal security detail.
  • Commissioner Elaine Boyer claimed Jones shoved her in a hallway.
  • A woman complained Jones showed up on her doorstep one night, ranting incoherently.
  • Another woman filed a rape allegation against Jones.  His defense:  She was a willing participant in a ménàge a trois.  The woman eventually withdrew the allegation.  The GBI report in that case was a real eye-opener.
  • A candidate opposing Jones in his re-election, Teresa Green Johnson, claimed Jones bullied and physically intimidated her as she stood alongside Wesley Chapel Road waving campaign signs.  Jones won re-election handily.

I covered all this stuff for WAGA, as did Proctor and Belcher and other reporters at other news organizations.  Unfortunately, I can’t clearly identify why Jones seems to have a special place in his heart for me.  I covered Jones with the same vigor and fairness I would use to cover any other public figure constantly mired in controversy.

In 2004, the AJC reported that DeKalb police ran numerous, unauthorized background checks on several of Jones’ political enemies, as well as some reporters covering him.  I was among them.  Jones was never implicated in the investigation.

2008 AJC photo by Renee Hannans

Once, I went to Liane Levetan’s annual hot dog party and saw Jones there.  (Levetan was Jones’ predecessor as DeKalb CEO.  She lives in my neck of the woods.)  Jones cornered me and launched into a bitter, semi-coherent tirade about my coverage of him.  He felt that my presence at Levetan’s party proved that I was in cahoots with his political enemies.  “If I threw a party, there’s no way you would attend,” he said.  It was very, very weird.

I had another similar encounter with him on the sidewalk outside his office.  I was in a live truck, editing a story for the noon newscast.  Jones had just held a press conference.  He came to the truck, and berated me for the questions I’d asked.  The questions were, of course, probing but quite reasonable.  His tirades were always personal and ugly, and laced with twisted logic that suggested something approaching genuine madness.

Jones has some qualities I actually admire.  He’s a gifted politician.  He’s articulate.  He’s well-groomed and well-dressed.  He has a certain rogue charm that one could find appealing.  My personal feelings toward him would be nonexistent, were it not for the odd behavior he has directed toward me all too regularly.

Vernon Jones is now running for Congress, and I’m on his e-mail newsletter list.

During his re-election campaign in 2004, I was also on his e-mail list.  One item announced a birthday party for Vernon Jones at a Buckhead nightspot.  Because of our conversation at Levetan’s party, I made a point of attending.  I thought it might give me an opportunity to bury the hatchet with this guy.

The wife and I stayed for an hour or so, but we only saw Jones from a distance.  I wanted to make sure Jones knew I was there, so we approached him as we departed.  He all but ignored me, but chatted emphatically with the missus.

“Tell Doug to stop harassing me!”

more about “lawsuit verdict“, posted with vodpod
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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form, zero, zilch, nada. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

19 thoughts on “Jonestown

  1. Jim

    Doug, just remember rule number one, “if they’re no mad at you, you’re not pushing hard enough.” Sounds like you’re doing just a little better than the rest of the scrum.

    I’ve had people like this who, for whatever reason, have decided I was out to get them. I give it about five minutes thought…If I decide I was unfair, I fix it. If I didn’t do anything wrong, I ignore ‘em.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Someone’s Not Drinking The Kool-Aid — Peach Pundit

  3. Sammy

    OK, so Veron isn’t squeaky clean, but all in all he’s a good politician and will make a good Congressman!

    Reply
    1. CY

      Sammy…You have got to be kidding me. This guy all but destroyed DeKalb County. He wrecked the police department – in case you weren’t paying attention. He ruled by intimidation and is (as is now proven) a racist who perpetuated the same in the DeKalb County Government. Sorry, but he is not the kind of “Congressman” I would want representing me. But maybe all that is good for you? In case you were sleeping for the last eight years maybe you should catch up on the damage done by this man through his hiring of one Terrell Bolton.

      Reply
      1. True Blue

        AMEN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
        Destroying a County is one thing, destroying the State or Nation is another. This man must NEVER again be allowed to hold public office.

        Reply
  4. juanita driggs

    Vernon Jones hears a verdict ordering him to pay tens of thousands of dollars to two former DeKalb County employees who complained in court of a “racially hostile work environment.”

    The above doesn’t equate with someone who has a squeaky clean reputation or someone who is a good(i.e. astute) politician. Admittedly I may have a narrower, more finely honed definition than Sammy but so far someone of Burrell Ellis’ calibre DOES exhibit these qualities and that’s a blessing for Dekalb. Let’s hope Hank runs again. I can put up with Guam tipping over and capsizing but I can’t tolerate the 4th Congressional District doing so.

    Reply
  5. Atlanta Unsheltered

    I wish I had something substantive to say but all I can come up with is, this is really interesting! Somehow you’ve developed a weird dynamic with him, I’m sure through no fault of your own.

    If nothing else, it makes for a great story for the blog!

    Reply
  6. christy

    He’s going to file a “bullying” lawsuit against you! lmao
    Maybe you should invite him to one of your parties!

    Reply
  7. LoFlyer

    Having had the misfortune to work for Vernon for eight years, I can sympathize with Doug in this matter. My personal interactions with Vernon was non-consequential, saying hello on the elevator (if he was running for election) to observing Vernon in a staff meeting. For the record I heard Mr. Jones state he wanted employees to refer to him as Mr. CEO instead of Mr. Jones. Later Mr. Jones stated that he would give 10 grand to anyone with proof that he had said that. Seventy intimidated employees kept our mouths shut, Vern was not the type to cheerfully accept our word, and we valued our jobs.
    Vernon was a vindictive SOB, the clerk of recorders had previously refused to “fix” a ticket for Vern, and when Vernon was elected CEO, she was first on his list to be canned ASAP, unfortunately the lady had already got herself appointed to another position protected by Superior court judges. This was about the only time that anyone on Vernon’s shit list avoided getting canned. My boss was scared so witless of Vernon canning him that he would not oppose an amendment to the DeKalb/Comcast franchise agreement knowing that it would cost the county hundreds of thousands in data communication services from Comcast, because Vernon needed some cash for one of his projects. Later Vernon reportedly stated that he would not have allowed the amendment if he had known how much it would later cost the county. My boss was white and not very effective, and extremely intimidated by Vernon to the point he could not criticize or refuse anything Vernon wanted, he just wanted to last another year to retirement. My next director provided “exhibit D” the voice mail accidentally left on the IT directors voice mail when HR director Joe Stone thought he had hung up the phone. Here is a link to exhibit D, http://www.scribd.com/doc/28907260/ExD-
    The background behind the exhibit D, and this is all hearsay. IT management got a request from J Thom Morgan for a employee racial demographic report for this case, allegedly Director Stone calls the IT director, Mike Amato to talk about the “problem”. Mike tells Joe he has the request from J Thom and can have the report ready in a week or so and Stone states that IT is to report to J Thom the report cannot be economically produced; that it is too expensive to create the report. Some where in that time period Joe Stone accidentally left the exhibit D voice mail on Mr. Amato’s phone. Mike Amato apparently had ethical issues with orders he had received and made his reservations known. He was canned along with an associate director, and turned exhibit D over to J Thom who represented the two fired directors which lead to an out of court settlement for both.
    CEO Ellis has stated that the case is closed and it is time for the county to move on. There is no plan of action to prevent more of the racial discrimination displayed in exhibit D, Joe Stone will retain his job as HR director with DeKalb while William Morris remains BOC chief of staff.
    County employee demographics remain confidential.

    Reply
  8. Element

    Vernon “The Vermin” Jones embodies the despicable stench of that backwards & crooked county. In fact, is largely at fault for its complete mismanagement and current economic hell. I cannot wait to see him fail at his next endeavor and hope for a speedy march to his inevitable stint in jail.

    Reply
  9. Scott Henry

    Welcome to the club, Doug. After I wrote my 2005 profile of Vernon, I first heard through the grapevine that he was relatively OK with it. But over the next few months, for whatever reasons, he became convinced it was a vicious hatchet job and that I was out to get him.
    I can personally confirm that when he launches into one of his one-on-one tirades, he seems to become utterly unhinged. You really have no idea what he’s going to say next. Anyone who believes that Vernon simply has a forceful personality should be on the receiving end of one of those.

    Reply
  10. Don

    Another Vernon War Story that may shed some light, Doug: In May 2006, Vernon sent Planning Director / Generalisimo Patrick Ejike along with two DeKalb police officers to a DeKalb Planning Commission meeting to forcibly remove Vernon’s own appointee from membership. Vernon apparently had taken offense from his appointee (who was appointed for a fixed term) and VJ went out and found someone more lucrative to appoint. There was no court order or anything lawful about it; just a letter from Mr. CEO banishing his old loyal appointee —backed up by guys with guns who should have been out patrolling the streets. A cop literally went to the podium and grabbed the man.
    The Planning Commission adjourned the meeting rather than allow this Gestapo tactic (you know, it’s a crime in Georgia to interfere / disrupt any meeting of a local government body—look it up). But laws don’t seem to apply to Vernon. In most cities and counties, this would have been HEADLINE news. Doug covered that story for his TV station, perhaps the only one that did. Maybe that’s one reason Vernon won’t send him a Christmas card. Vernon has no respect for women and none for democracy, either.

    Reply
  11. Charles Shaw

    This guy has always been corrupt and mentally unstable…How some one of his demeanor and character could have acquired political office is nothing short of amazing . The only thing more amazing is the people who would vote for him and vote for those (other) fools that occupy high elected offices in Dekalb…

    If you got him that mad, you have got to be doing a great job Doug…Carry on….

    Reply
  12. AtlWxGrl

    I just want to say that I was completely surprised to see Vernon Jones walk into the GPB Studio for the Atlanta Press Club debates. I would have thought that after what happened in April, he would not show his face again, or at least not run for as high of an office as US Congress. However, the guy has more charisma than a Bravo Housewife; it was very entertaining to watch him work the debate.

    Reply
  13. Pingback: Vernon Jones walks into a bar…. « live apartment fire

  14. Jack

    It’s kind of funny because you seem like someone certain people don’t like for vague reasons. I think you’re funny but can see how someone would see you as a smart-ass and hold a grudge that has no reason other than their perception of you.

    Reply

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