On Sunday morning, in River Lake Estates, former sheriff's deputy Patrick Cuffy stood in his front yard, talking to a friend, when a red truck drove up. So did a black Ford Excursion, then a grayish Taurus. Armed with assault-style semiautomatics, a posse of men leaped out. They rushed Cuffy and his friend, Dania Hewitt, who had a gun of his own. A loud argument was followed by seven seconds of rapid gunfire. Children playing nearby dived behind bushes as the men exchanged 59 shots. By the time it was over, one gunman was wounded and another fatally shot. Neighbors returned from church to see Cuffy led away in handcuffs.
Cuffy, 35, had attracted police attention long before the Sunday shoot-out. He had been deputy to Sidney Dorsey, the sheriff whom Derwin Brown defeated in a bitter fight last year. (Cuffy was also employed by Dorsey's private security firm.) Once, during the campaign, Brown told aides he had seen Cuffy lurking in a dark SUV, shadowing him as he discussed corruption in the DeKalb jail with a county official. Cuffy was one of 38 employees that the reform-minded Brown planned to fire once he took office. Cuffy had doubled his take-home pay to $90,000 by filing excessive overtime and had been accused of various infractions, including mistreating inmates at the jail, recklessly driving a sheriff's cruiser and disrespectfully polishing his boots with sheets at a hospital where he left an inmate alone.
Cuffy's friends say they have been questioned by detectives about his alibi on Dec. 15--that he was at home with two men who stopped by to talk about a business deal. A woman who lives in Cuffy's home has been repeatedly questioned, even during a vacation in Florida. At the same time, investigators have pressed Dorsey associates for information, searching the home of Paul Skyers, another of the defeated incumbent's security-firm employees. Police have also searched Cuffy's home, where they found a 9-mm handgun, two boxes of ammunition, a pawn receipt for a gun, a recommendation letter from Dorsey, and Cuffy's passport. But they have not labeled Cuffy--or anyone--a suspect. Nor have they found the semiautomatic weapon used to kill Derwin Brown, a weapon very similar to the guns in Sunday's shoot-out. Still, they have filed obstruction-of-justice charges against Cuffy's roommate David Ramsey and another Dorsey loyalist, Melvin Walker, for allegedly misleading investigators about Cuffy's alibi. Within days of those arrests, the armed men descended on Cuffy's home. He says they came to kill him. He escaped injury, while Hewitt was shot in the legs and feet in the fire fight, which ended with the gunmen's speeding away. Police have charged Hewitt with murder in the death of Jeffery (Nigel) George, whose body was dumped a mile away at John Truelove Park. The other gunmen escaped. Why was Cuffy arrested? Police have charged him with tampering with evidence because he picked up Hewitt's gun, which was lying on the street, and carried it inside his house before police arrived. Cuffy insists that Hewitt opened fire in self-defense.