November 7, 2012

Langford defeats incumbent Ensley

Vows to bring ‘respect’ back to the sheriff’s office

Rachel Brown

— Gary Langford campaigned on the idea that Murray County residents needed to replace their sheriff of 24 years, and — in a year in which the sheriff’s office became entangled in a criminal investigation that resulted in two people being fired — voters by a significant margin agreed.

Langford, a Republican and retired law enforcement officer of 38 years, received 6,443 votes (57.86 percent) on Tuesday, while Sheriff Howard Ensley, a Democrat, received 4,692 votes (42.14 percent). The results are unofficial until certified by the Secretary of State and do not include provisional ballots, which must be counted by Friday.

Langford thanked voters and his family and friends for their support. He said he didn’t know whether a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) inquiry earlier this year that resulted in Ensley firing a deputy and a captain for allegedly making false statements had any bearing on the election.

“I don’t really know. I know that there is an investigation that is still going on,” Langford said. “It may have had something to do with it. We probably won’t know on that until the investigation is over, but I think from when I was politicking from the north end to the south end of the county talking to the citizens, they just told me it was time for a change, and they sent the message tonight.”

Describing himself as a “proven, honest, dedicated leader,” Ensley campaigned on promises to continue with policies and practices he’s had for the last 24 years, including several new programs to educate the public and fight crime.

Yet his office this year was caught up in the GBI inquiry as part of an effort to determine whether others were involved in alleged wrongdoing by former chief magistrate Bryant Cochran, who resigned after admitting to pre-signing — though not issuing — a handful of warrants.

Asked if he believed his office’s involvement in the investigation had any bearing on the election, Ensley said he only wanted to thank his supporters.

“I’ll continue to work hard and be a good sheriff until my term is up, and I still want to serve the people of Murray County until my time is up,” he said.

The two men Ensley fired were involved in bringing drug charges against a woman who sparked an investigation by a state watchdog agency for judges when she said Cochran solicited her for sexual favors before hearing her case, a charge Cochran denied. The district attorney dismissed the drug charge within days of the woman’s arrest, and attorneys on both sides said the investigation indicated the drugs had been planted on her car.

Officials with knowledge of the case said several people from the sheriff’s office were subpoenaed before a federal grand jury in Atlanta in connection with the accusations against Cochran. The grand jury proceedings are ongoing, and no indictments have been issued.

In 2008, Ensley easily won his sixth term, beating Republican Benny Davenport with 7,197 votes (64 percent) to 4,041 votes (36 percent). Ensley said he doesn’t have plans for after his term expires at the end of the year.

A part-time bus driver for the Murray County Senior Center, Langford said he’ll attend sheriff’s school for four weeks before taking office, likely beginning the classes next week.

He has nearly four decades of experience working for the Georgia State Patrol, Chatsworth Police Department and Murray County Sheriff’s Office.

During the July GOP primary, he faced challengers Wyle Keith Pritchett and Ken Smith before beating Pritchett in a runoff with 58 percent of the vote.

“I want to be a good sheriff when I take over,” Langford said. “I want to try to bring respect back to the sheriff’s department.”