Special Report: The woman who would be sheriff
COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – Donna Tompkins is one of only two female sheriffs in Georgia.
Tompkins was elected December 2016, beating two-term incumbent John Darr.
Since taking office Tompkins has preached fiscal responsibility, a noted difference between her and the man she succeeded.
Muscogee County Sheriff Donna Tompkins has been on the job for a little more than five months. If it seems longer, that's because she's spent more than half her life in law enforcement, which is steady work for a country girl from west Alabama.
"I was born in Jasper, Alabama. My father was a coal miner. My grandfather was a coal miner. My other grandfather was a coal miner," Tompkins said.
But like the singer Loretta Lynn, mining would not be in Tompkins' future.
"My mother and father divorced when I was young, and after a little moving around we landed here in Columbus, Georgia. So, I went to high school here, Baker High School," Tompkins said.
That's where Tompkins interest in law enforcement began.
"Baker High School had criminal justice classes taught by Jackie Dawson. I don't even know if he's still around, but it was a brand-new kind of thing back then, and I really liked it," Tompkins said.
She liked it enough to continue the study in college. Tompkins says while working on her Associate's Degree, she took a job with the sheriff's office as a clerk in Recorder's Court.
Tompkins moved up in the ranks under sheriffs Gene Hodge and Ralph Johnson, but that all changed when John Darr was elected in 2008.
Once he took office, Darr was accused of retaliating against those who didn't support his campaign, Tompkins among them. She and two other female employees sued the sheriff and won.
The jury deliberated for nearly 30 hours over the course of four days before finding Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr guilty of gender discrimination.
"Ultimately, the jury ruled in our favor and the judge stated that the next promotion would be mine. He actually made them choose. He said so if there had not been gender discrimination, which one of these employees would you have promoted and they chose and said me. So, when the next promotion became available I got it," Tompkins said.
That was 2013. Three years later they squared off again, this time in the race for sheriff. Tompkins hit Darr especially hard on the lawsuit he filed against the city, claiming his budget was insufficient. In the end, a majority of voters took Tompkins' side and elected the county's first female sheriff.
An audit later found Darr was 13-million dollars over budget.
"That wasn't shocking to me. When I ran for office, I was aware of that to some degree, and you know, it was one of the things that the people of Muscogee County were ready for that to change. They want someone who is trying to be good stewards of their money," Tompkins said.
"Are you and John Darr close at all," Chuck asked?
"Not at all. No. I don't have anything bad to say about him. You know, he was the sheriff and I respect that. I know that one day I will have been the sheriff and I hope people respect that and we move on," Tompkins said.