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Newton Sheriff's Office Mark Mitchell finalist for Morrow police chief

MORROW -- Morrow officials confirmed Wednesday Newton County Sheriff's Office Lt. Mark Mitchell, along with Lithonia's former police chief and a top-ranking official in the Atlanta Police Department, are the three finalists for the city's police chief position.

Resumes released by Morrow show former Lithonia Police Chief Kennis Harrell, Atlanta Police Maj. Christopher Leighty, and Mitchell are the three candidates remaining out of 38 applicants.

"I'm honored to be selected as a finalist for the police chief position," Mitchell said Thursday morning. "I've served here in Newton County with the Sheriff's Office for nearly 20 years and consider it my law enforcement home. I've been given the opportunity to learn and advance, and I appreciate everything former sheriffs and the current sheriff have done for me."

Mitchell said his goal when he chose law enforcement as a career was to someday be the chief executive officer of a law enforcement agency, although he still very much enjoys his work in Newton County.

"I'm still very proud of where I serve with the Newton County Sheriff's Office," he said. "If things don't work out with this, I'll still serve with diligence just like I have for the last 20 years."

The resumes of the three candidates have been forwarded to Morrow's City Council, which is set to interview the candidates this weekend, according to Mayor Joseph "J.B." Burke.

"If either I, or a member of the council, decide we don't like the group of candidates that have been brought to us, we could ask them (the review panel) to bring us the next three candidates that scored high," Burke said. "I'm hoping we get this done quickly. We've got other issues in the city that we need to deal with. We don't need to be sitting around each week, trying to decide who our next police chief is going to be."

The council is scheduled to conduct the interviews during an executive session, at a special called meeting, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at Morrow City Hall, which is located at 1500 Morrow Road. Burke said the executive session is expected to last until approximately noon.

Although city officials are looking to get a new police chief in place soon, Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady said a formal job offer to any candidate is still "a few weeks away." He said background and psychological checks have to be performed before a formal offer can be made to a candidate. He also said the city has to allow time for the final candidate to notify his current employer of his plans to take the job.

"I know we would want them to do that if they were one of our employees," Eady said.

Whomever is chosen for the job will be the permanent replacement for former Police Chief Jeff Baker, who resigned Dec. 1, after he was arrested on a driving under the influence charge. Prior to coming to Morrow, Baker had worked for the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office.

Morrow Police Capt. Greg Tatroe -- who was himself an applicant to permanently replace Baker -- has been serving as the city's interim police chief since the former chief stepped down.

Eady said he was joined on the city's review panel by former Morrow Police Chiefs Lou Deckmar and Kenny Smith, as well as Georgia State University Police Chief Connie Sampson. The city manager added he was pleased with the three finalists that the review panel found through its grading of job applicants. He explained applicants were graded based on traits, such as experience, management philosophy and education.

Harrell, Leighty and Mitchell have a combined 67 years of experience in law enforcement, according to their resumes. Each of them has a master's degree, and has served in various management positions with other law enforcement departments.

"They're good candidates," Eady said. "Any one of them would make a good police chief."

Mitchell is currently the commander of the Criminal Investigation Division for the NCSO. He serves as the office's public information officer, SWAT team commander and Honor Guard commander. He also oversees the office's patrol, crime scene, fugitive agent, crime suppression and Internet Crime Against Children units, and he coordinates the office's digital 800 radio system.

He previously was the executive officer of the office's uniform division, and manager and instructor for the office's Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program. He has also, in the past, overseen the Newton County Sheriff's Office's school resource, K-9, traffic, CHAMPS and civil process units.

Harrell was Lithonia's police chief, from November 2010 until December 2011. He spent more than 24 years with the DeKalb County Police Department before that, however. He started with the DeKalb County Police Department in 1986, as a police officer, and gradually worked his way up the ranks, to a homicide and burglary detective, then to a police academy instructor.

He has also served as the commander of the DeKalb County Police Department's community outreach section, the assistant commander of its criminal investigation division, assistant commander of the department's north precinct, a precinct commander, a field operations bureau District 2 commander, an assistant chief of police, and a deputy chief of police.

Leighty has been the commander of the Atlanta Police Department's Zone 5 Precinct, which includes Atlanta's downtown and midtown areas, since May 2011. He previously served as a member of Atlanta Police's special weapons and tactics team, crime suppression unit, SWAT team, and bomb squad. He was also once the commander of Atlanta's special enforcement section, which included the department's gang unit, narcotics unit, homeland security unit, vice squad, violent crime impact team, and financial investigations squad.

His biography, on the Atlanta Police Department's website, shows he was also once a member of the department's controversial Red Dog Unit, in the late 1990s. He also spent 10 years in the U.S. Marines before joining Atlanta police in 1990.Newton Citizen News Editor Barbara Knowles contributed to this story.