Incumbent Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat wins key race for reelection

Incumbent Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat cruised to a victory in Tuesday's Democratic primary election.
Incumbent Fulton County Sheriff Patrick "Pat" Labat takes a selfie with Knowa De Barso, middle, and his wife Jacqueline "Jackie" Labat at an election night watch party at Park Tavern in Midtown Atlanta on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Chamian Cruz/WABE)

Incumbent Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat cruised to a victory after securing 54.8% of the total vote counted as of 10 p.m. in Tuesday’s Democratic primary election.

Labat spent the better part of his reelection campaign defending his record and management following mounting violence, overcrowding and multiple deaths at the Fulton County Jail.

At least 10 detainees died while in custody in 2023 and three this year.

But despite challenges, Labat successfully garnered more than half of the ballots cast in the primary, meaning he will not be competing in a runoff against any of his three challengers on June 18.

Labat said at an election night watch party at Park Tavern in Midtown that the results show the confidence Fulton County voters have in him and his office.

“It also says that it’s time for us to really focus on what matters and it’s how we treat people,” Labat said. “I’m excited about the voters that came out, excited about the opportunity to continue to serve. … I’m ready to take off and fly.”

This is Labat’s 35th year in law enforcement.

“You look at the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and understand that we’ve had a former president [booked in the jail], we came out of COVID, we had a cyberattack, we’ve gone through the largest gang trial in the southeast,” Labat said. “So, we’ve gone through a lot, but we’re resilient. … And while we’ve had a few bad apples that have emerged, it’s time for us to continue the fight.”

John Brewer, a 43-year Atlanta resident, was one of dozens of supporters who attended the watch party for Labat. He said there are several important qualities he looks for in a sheriff.

“I would feel that the ability to build wider and more political bridges in a city that’s growing by leaps and bounds and has a capacity for infrastructure trying to keep up with that growth,” Brewer said. “And to collaborate and build relationships that will do that both from a municipality level as well as a federal level. … I really just appreciate the opportunity to give voice to this political process.”

Candidates Joyce Farmer, Kirt Beasley and James “JT” Brown each obtained between 11-23% of the vote Tuesday.

All are former employees of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office who were betting on their experience to fix the reported failures inside the jail.

At a debate hosted by Republican State Rep. Mesha Mainor and former president of the Georgia NAACP James Woodall earlier this month, Brown said what the jail needs to keep detainees safe are more security rounds and better training for officers.

“You have to have a humanitarian spirit in order to serve as a deputy,” Brown said. “When I was there, we served from the heart. We didn’t let anyone die because of bed bugs.”

Labat did not participate in that debate, but he has repeatedly blamed the dangerous conditions on the outdated building.

Lashawn Thompson’s family was recently awarded a $4 million settlement after he was found dead in 2022 in a bedbug-infested cell in the psychiatric wing of the Fulton County Jail due to medical neglect.

Meanwhile, Beasley said that if she was elected sheriff, she would ensure the jail received much-needed renovations.

“Funds that’s being mentioned to be used to build a new jail could be invested in a diversion center, someplace that can be used for people suffering from mental illness and the people who are homeless that oftentimes fill up the jail,” Beasley said.

Another candidate, Charles Rambo, is still in the running for sheriff as a write-in on the November ballot. At the May 9 debate, he said while the county does need a new jail, the nearly $2 billion solution won’t be a permanent one.

“If third-grade test scores are the indicator of future populations on a 25-year basis, I guess we’re on the trajectory of filling it back up,” Rambo said.