The Most Embarrassing Moment of my Life!

January 4, 2018

 

As if raising thousands of dollars, knocking on the doors of strangers, and stressing out your friends and family wasn’t enough…when I ran for office in 2012 I had one of the most embarrassing experiences a person could have.  I was accused by someone of committing a crime and the incident follows me to this day.  To this day, that embarrassing moment is also one of the things that reminds me of my success.  What had happened was ….   

 

In 2012, I entered the race for State Representative for District 62 in Georgia.  I was the underdog.  I was the only woman, the youngest candidate, and by far had the least public name recognition in the area of politics.  Despite being a political unknown, I had long been a hard worker.  I was the hometown girl who knew far more of the 54,000 people in the district than I thought. 

 

Before I ran, I worked for the Fulton County District Attorney’s office where I was the Director of the Community Prosecution unit and the Zone 4 Community Prosecutor.  In that role, I prosecuted repeat offenders but I also worked closely with the police, citizens, and businesses to reduce crime.  One of the areas I spent hours of time was the Camp Creek Marketplace which is also the location of the crime I was falsely accused of committing.

 

I left the DA’s office to open my own practice as a criminal defense attorney and began taking cases immediately.  Just six short months after opening my practice I decided to run for office.  The primary election was for the most part clean.  There was the traditional yard sign stealing and a couple of contentious candidate forums, but overall the candidates focused on their race.  That was until somebody saw me as the front runner and they got scared and desperate.

 

My team was a well-oiled machine making sure we reached out to voters directly.  Our campaign plan was tight.  The work we put in during the early weeks of the primary had us primed for an easy win and there was nothing stopping me from walking directly into the seat until …

 

A woman I did not know accused me of breaking into her locker at LA Fitness, stealing her debit card, and charging up more than $500.00 in sundresses and lotion on her card.  She reported the crime to the East Point police department.  Supposedly the woman did her own investigation and got LA Fitness to provide her with a list of everyone who had entered the gym that morning.  I was one of those people. 

 

During that time, I exercised regularly.  I need to stop for a second and reflect on the fact I was able to wake myself up at 4am in the morning and make it to the gym before the sun came up to run on the treadmill before my busy day.  Something I have not been able to convince myself to do since 2012.  My experience that year took all the fun out of the gym for me.  I continue to pay my monthly fees for two years after I stopped going because I had convinced myself I would get back to my early morning routine one day.  I am still waiting on that. 

 

It was not a secret that I frequented the gym because while in candidate mode I used every spare moment to campaign.  Before I left the gym each morning I left campaign flyers in the locker room, showers and on the row of treadmills.  Any supporters of my opponent could tell which days I went to the gym by the bright purple flyers that magically appeared throughout the place. 

 

The alleged victim then obtained a video from Target of the person who used her card.  Technology allowed them to zero in on the exact time and register where the fraudulent purchase was made.  They had video of the person walking out.  The victim claims she took this video and compared it with the small number of women who checked into the gym that day and I was the closest match and therefore I had to be the person who stole her debit card. 

 

She took the case to the East Point Police Department.  In my role as a community prosecutor I worked directly with the East Point police.  The officers, treating me like one of their own, always referred to me by my last name.  Not ADA Blackett Jones or Attorney Jones but simply “Blackett Jones.”  You have seen the television shows and movies where a police chief runs in the room yelling for a beat officer by last name “Axel” “Johnson” “Smith.”  That really happens and a simple last name is how the officers identify themselves and how they identified me.  I felt like one of them.

 

It did not take long for the buzz around the department to pick up that someone accused Blackett Jones of stealing from Target.  The officers researched the case, knew what I looked like and decided there was no evidence that it was me.   Simply looking at the video it was clear that the woman in the video looked Latino or maybe even white.  The police did not find enough probable cause to issue a warrant or even bring me in for an interview. 

 

However, this alleged victim was relentless.  She complained to the command staff that she wanted action or she was going to the media.  Not wanting to be accused of not doing their job, the detective took the next step and went to the District Attorney’s office.  Of course upon hearing a former Chief Senior Assistant District Attorney was involved the matter went straight to the top.  The District Attorney has a public integrity unit.  Assistant DA’s in that unit are assigned to those cases where a public figure, police officer or other high profile person is accused of a crime.  This unit has the difficult task of taking an unbiased look into matters that involve people who in other prosecutor’s offices might get special treatment simply because of who they are.   It was their job to investigate every case with the same zeal not matter who the suspect was.

 

The District Attorney and his public integrity unit reviewed the video, the information from LA Fitness, and talked directly with the assigned detective.  My former colleagues could see immediately that the video was not me.  However, due diligence was still required.  I was interviewed about my involvement.  I was happy to explain where I was during the time of the theft.  My alibi was corroborated and the case went nowhere, no file was opened, and we thought it would end there. 

 

Rather than take their word for it, this relentless “victim” wanted someone to pay.  However, she did not want to investigate who may have really been the real culprit.  Georgia has a process called a “private warrant.”  A private warrant allows individuals who believe they are victims of a crime to have a judge listen to their case and determine if there is sufficient probable cause for a warrant to be issued.  A private warrant has the same effect as a police warrant or a grand jury warrant issued by the District Attorney’s office.  Due to the fact someone can be arrested for the allegations, the court is required to have a hearing on the matter and give both sides a chance to present their facts. 

 

When I received notice of the private warrant I was annoyed, angry, and highly suspicious of who was behind these antics.  The hearing was just before the election date.  Although I knew without a doubt that the case would be dismissed, I was annoyed at the time I had to take off of the campaign trail to address these unfounded allegations.   It was a distraction.

 

Listening to the advice of my friends and generally accepted good counsel, “a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.”  I wanted to go into court alone, guns blazing, to defend myself.  But instead, I listened to wisdom and one of my biggest supporters, Kimani King agreed to go in with me pro bono.  I still owe him several favors.  The campaign had depleted my personal funds, my business was brand new, and I dared not used the donations of my supporters to defend against these personal attacks.  I couldn’t imagine spending money on a lawyer when I was a lawyer.

 

There are tons of ironic facts that appeared to laugh at me throughout this experience.  I remember, in preparation for the hearing I went back to LA Fitness, which I started to avoid after I learned about the accusations from the DA’s office.  I sat in the parking lot, mentally preparing myself to not snap on the person who helped me because it wasn’t their fault this woman was manufacturing this entire lie.  I looked up at a sign on the poll in front of me that read “Put away your belongings. Do not leave valuable items in your car.”  Hard eye roll. 

 

Those signs were install after months of me meeting with the property managers, land owners and businesses in the area because of the growing rash of thefts from the entire shopping center.  Before I left the DA’s office I spent weeks researching camera systems, convincing the police to increase patrols, and working with the property managers to get additional security to reduce the theft in the shopping center.  The most the shopping center was willing to do was invest in these signs.  Now here I am being accused of stealing from the exact same shopping center where I tried to reduce crime.  How fitting!  How embarrassing! How annoying! 

 

On the day of court, I was prepared with witnesses, evidence, and proof as if I was being accused of murder.  I remember walking into the courthouse as I did hundreds of times before in my six years as a prosecutor.  But this time my heart fluttered as I tried to fight back the tears of humiliation. 

 

On my way in I ran into a friend, Senior Assistant District Attorney Fani Willis.  Fani was a 5am LA Fitness person as well.   We have similar features and to this day I wonder why they didn’t choose her as a suspect too.   I’m pretty sure the answer was she was not a candidate for office.

 

As we walked up the Pryor St. stairs and into security she looked down at my foot and said “what did I tell you about that tattoo? Voters won’t like that.”  Ironically, Fani and I had a conversation in the first weeks of my campaign about both wearing weave and covering the large tattoo on my left foot while on the campaign trail.  It was her belief the older voters wouldn’t like the unnatural hair and would be turned off by the tattoo. 

 

I agreed with Fani’s initial assessment.  I toned down my weave to a more natural style and began covering my tattoo when on the campaign trail.  Although I am very proud of the symbol that is dedicated to my daughter that displays her middle name “Pride,” I know everyone is not a tattoo fan.  As Fani described it, “its like putting a permanent bumper sticker on a Bentley.”  Although I disagree and believe tattoos are one of the oldest human practices and present a culture as old as time, I knew that she was not the only person who would be distracted by my body art. 

 

Every day while on the campaign trail I covered my foot with makeup and skin toned stockings or shoes the hid the design.  During my downtown however, I kept my foot art displayed.  However, on the day of court, I was sure to wear the tattoo uncovered and I also wore bright red heels to bring attention to my feet.  Frankly the tattoo didn’t need the red accent.  Although I originally thought I put it in an inconspicuous place, from the beginning, even people who towered over me immediately looked down at my foot when the tattoo was visible.  Most either questioned, “what does that say?” or looked down at the tattoo and then up at my conservative business attire and then began screwing up their face as if their mind was trying to compute the juxtaposition. 

 

I wore my tattoo out because although the video didn’t give a clear face shot of the person walking out of Target after allegedly using the stolen debit card, it did show two things – her hairline and her feet.  The woman in the video wore flip flops as she casually strolled out of the store.  Her feet were clear and did not display the beautifully drawn cursive symbol of my first child.  One of the many pieces of evidence I intended to display in court.  I told Fani why I was there that day and why I was so happy I had that tattoo to distinguish me from this woman in the video. 

 

The other, very embarrassing evidence was my weave.  Thank God I didn’t listen to Fani and remove all of my weave.  First because the campaign trail was brutal.  As a woman I was expected to look polished at all times.  As much as I love my coily curls, my natural hair would not have made it through my 15 hour days where I was expected to look fresh both at the 8am breakfast meeting and the 8pm community forum. 

 

The weave style my stylist and I chose was one that required the absolute least amount of daily work possible.  That meant braiding my hair and sewing the weave onto it.  We decided on partial bangs so I could leave out as little of my natural hair as possible.  To accomplish this the stylist put a small braid around the front ends of my hair up to the part.   The style was very cute and it meant my hair would look exactly the same way every time a voter saw me.  It also meant my hair could only be in that exact same style every day. 

 

The woman in the video had her hair pulled back in a tight bun.  Her hairline, which was the most visible thing in the video, had an odd U shape.  I personally have always been self conscious of my larger than average four head.  I “lovingly” refer to it as a five head when I tell my children they are lucky they did not inherit it.  My five head that was passed down from my grandmother to my mother and then to me does not have a U shaped hairline.  I was prepared to let the judge fully examine my sewn in hair piece and asked my stylist to attend the hearing to testify to when she put in my weave unit. 

 

Unfortunately, my stylist was out of town.  But I came to court with a hair tie on my wrist fully prepared to show the judge that the person in the video could not possibly be me.  When I attempted to pull my hair back the braided natural hair and the weave track would create a huge hump that could not be smoothed down.  The weave which was sewn to a track could only go in one direction.  If I needed to pull my hair back, I could do a swoop over my five head with the bangs.  Pulling my hair straight back was not an option.  However, the Matlock moment I planned to pull out as evidence was not my main proof. 

 

Private warrant hearings are routine and short.  Although I had been in private practice for only a short time, I represented several clients who went through this process.  As a baby prosecutor I was worked the night shift in the 24 hour complaint room.  In the complaint room Assistant District Attorneys process every arrest that is made in the county.  There was a shelf of “private warrant” cases in the complaint room that attorneys were supposed to research and process during their down town.  These were the cases where the private warrant judge decided there was probable cause and the case was sent to the DA’s office to be indicted or accused.  During my time in the complaint room these cases had somehow been ignored.  No research was conducted and the cases had stacked up.  Some had even passed the statute of limitations and had to be dismissed. 

 

Ironically, again, I took my downtime on the complaint room line and reorganized the private warrant cases.  No one asked me specifically to do it but I remember thinking, “man that is unfair that a victim or a wrongly accused person has been just waiting for someone to do something with these cases.”  I reviewed them, dismissed those that expired, called the victims of the others for an update, and took what was hundreds of cases and reduced them to just a few.  More than six years later there was a possibility that my name, my case, my drama would end up on that same shelf.

 

On the day of my hearing however, there was something different in the private warrant courtroom.  On this day, WSB-TV was there.  Tom Jones, the reporter and his camera man were in the front row.  I knew they were there for my case.  Also, there was the court reporter I hired.  Typically, private warrant hearings are not transcribed.  However, I felt this woman was put up to this complaint by my political opponent and I had the full intention of suing her for slander for the lies she was preparing to spew in court.  I never did. It would have been more of a waste of time … however I was prepared to do so in that moment.

 

Due to the additional visitors in court for my case, the judge took up my matter first.  Looking around the full courtroom, I for some reason started dreading the moment I pulled my perfectly coifed hair back to display my proof that the woman in the video was not me.  My hair, like my makeup, and my pearls was my signal to the world that I am trust worthy and thoughtful.  The idea of pulling back my shield in open court felt the same as unbuttoning my blouse and letting everyone see Victoria’s secret.

 

The camera man set up as we approached the front of the courtroom.  I walked up with my attorney, my witness, and my laptop that was pre-loaded with the video.  Surprisingly, this woman who claimed that she was able to find my identity using the same video did not bring it as evidence.  I’m sure she knew that everyone could tell it looked nothing like me and it would be an easier win for her to just claim it was me on the video. 

 

Although my attorney friend Kimani King presented well on my behalf I couldn’t keep quiet.  The setup for the slightly informal hearing made it easy for me to fight for myself from the podium.  I completely took over the presentation of my case because I wanted to be sure that every single piece of proof I had was presented.  In that moment of wanting to present the most minuet of details I became a better defense attorney. In that moment I understood deeply why clients would repeatedly tell me about piece of evidence that I had dismissed as not very persuasive.  When you are fighting for your freedom or reputation, everything matters.  I now acknowledge my clients request to present evidence even if I do not think it is persuasive to the case.  I make sure they know I hear them and I work it in no matter how irrelevant it may be. 

 

My primary evidence was my alibi.  My alibi was my investigator.  At the exact time when the purchase was made with the credit card, sometime around 9am, he and I was on the complete other side of the county working on a case of trademark infringement for a client.  We were attempting to prove that a manufacturer that once sold counterfeit products still had those products in his warehouse.  My investigator, Will McComb, a former cop and District Attorney investigator was recommended to me coincidentally by Fani Willis.  I didn’t work directly with Will during my time at the DA’s office and had not met him before I hired him.  However, when I sought out a very thorough investigator Will was said to be the hardest working investigator in the city.  They were right.      

 

Because of Will’s diligence he had recorded our entire encounter that morning starting with noting the time, date, and address where the recording was going to occur.  The almost one hour encounter, with voices of myself, Will, and the potential trademark infringer was on audio tape.  Immediately after the recording Will, as he always does, wrote contemporaneous notes of the investigation from his car.  He emailed the report of the incident to me.  We had time stamped proof of our visit that morning. There was absolutely no way that I was in Target using the stolen debit card in East Point and simultaneously in Sandy Springs at a warehouse investigating trademark infringement. 

 

I was so happy that I kept a detailed calendar of my busy schedule.  Otherwise I would have had a hard time figuring out where I was on this specific day, at this specific time, several weeks earlier.  The amazing part however was that on that day I was truly a superstar.  I was being my best self the entire day, which makes it more disturbing that someone would accuse me of the lowest characteristic of being a thief. 

 

You already know the morning of the alleged theft I went to the gym.  When I left the gym I went home as normal and gave 100% attention to my kids, then 2 and 4 years old.  Due to my evenings spent on the campaign trail, breakfast was sometime the only moments I had with my kiddos.  I dressed my daughter in her uniform and prepped my son to go to his grandmother’s house.  Any parent knows that two and four are the years when you have to do everything for the kid.  Children are completely unhelpful at that age.  You have to brush their hair and teeth for them, button all the buttons, and tie all the shoes.  They can do nothing on their own. 

 

By 8 am I had done more than some people did all day.  I dropped my son off at my mother’s home and headed toward my 9am appointment in Sandy Springs.  On the way out of the neighborhood I saw one of my students.  I was in my seventh year of being the sponsor and organizer of a group called Women of Westlake.  Women of Westlake, more affectionately known as WOW, was an afterschool club for girls at my alma mater, Westlake High School.  I taught the young ladies life skills and completed monthly community service activities with them.  It was club for girls who were like me in high school, smart but not the 4.0 student, couldn’t dance, sing, cheer, or play an instrument, and was completely not athletic.  There were not many organizations for girls just to be girls so I started one in 2005 immediately after graduating from Tulane Law School and returning to Georgia. 

 

The WOW student was one of my quieter students.  I saw her walking on the side of the road with a full book bag.  I turned around and pulled up next to her.  She explained she had overslept, missed the bus, but wanted to keep her perfect attendance record so she decided to walk.  To be clear, there were no sidewalks between this child’s house and the high school which was several miles away.  I glanced at the clock.  If I took her to Westlake, a ten minute drive in morning traffic in the opposite direction, I was going to be late for this appointment.  It took us forever to convince the warehouse owner to meet with us for our undercover investigation.  If I missed it because I was late the client would be livid, Will the investigator would still have to be paid, and the case would have died. 

 

Despite that, I couldn’t let the child walk all the way to school.  She got in the car and I dropped her off.  I didn’t think of it then, but in retrospect what would have happened if this alleged victim saw me picking up a minor on the side of the road.  That would have been a much better headline, “State Representative Candidate Solicits Minors on the Side of the Road.” 

 

I sped to Sandy Springs and tried to make up the lost time, but we all know what downtown traffic I like any day of the week.  I appeared twenty minutes late but we were able to proceed with the investigation.  After we completed the investigation I resumed normal duties.  I dialed for dollars, the process of begging your friends, family and colleagues to give you their hard earned dollars to help your campaign.  I attended two community forums where I shook the hands of strangers and introduced myself.  Then after a grueling day I went home after my kids were already fed and in bed to give my husband some attention.  The exact contents of the rest of the day are fuzzy because I my attention was focused on retracing my steps during the time of the day when I was accused of buying sundresses and lotion. 

 

Will played the audio from that morning in open court.  I played the Target video.  The court listened to both sides.  I flashed my hairline and foot tattoo as I took over as lead attorney representing myself.  The judge quickly dismissed the case.  The video alone was more than enough evidence to show it was not me.  The alleged victim walked out in a huff.  You would think all that evidence would have made her say, “I’m sorry I must have made a mistake.”  You would think it would make her want to find the person who really took her card.  Instead she left in a huff defeated in her goal of getting me arrested.  Her response to all the evidence increased my suspicion that this was not just a victim trying to get justice, but rather someone put up to weaken me as a candidate. 

 

The other clue that this may have been political trickery, the media.  Immediately upon walking out of the courtroom, before I could feel vindicated, I was followed by Tom Jones from WSB-TV and his camera man who asked to speak with me.  I regret speaking with him.  Without me speaking, the story was a non-story and likely would not have even aired because it is not news that someone was accused and it was dismissed.  However, as an experienced reporter Tom was able to shift the topic of his line of questioning. 

 

One of the minuet pieces of evidence I presented in court was print outs of my bank account.  One of those things that had I been the lawyer instead of the client I would have normally tried to convince the client was an unnecessary piece of proof.   I showed the judge I wouldn’t dare steal a debit card and ring up $500 in clothing because if I wanted clothes I had more than enough money in my account to pay for it.  Tom Jones’ first question, “where did you get all that money that you said was in your account.” 

 

I looked at Tom confused on the inside but keeping a poised look on my face because the camera was rolling.  “I save money  well,” I responded plainly.  He went on “do you feel vindicated?” he asked.  I used the time on camera to exclaim how this was simple political tricks by my opponent who I did not mention by name.  Initially I used every trick I learned while a prosecutor to investigate this alleged victim.  I hoped to find one connection between her and my opponent so I could sue him too when all this was done.  To this day I never had proof which opponent was involved.  But I know exactly who I think it is.  I spoke to two of my other opponents and they made it clear they were not involved.  As I have gotten to know them overtime I could not imagine either of them wasting their time with this type of thing.  It took knowledge of the criminal justice system to pull this off.  One opponent however remains under my suspicion.  His campaign manager plead to my campaign manager that they would never stoop so low.  Whatever!

 

I was glad however I followed the advice of a friend and did not turn over the video to the news.  It would have created an endless cycle of people comparing me to the video and making their own judgement.  Without the presentation of my immovable hair part, designer tattoo, and alibi audio recording, that video alone could leave the question open for debate.  The story played on the news on a Friday, which meant it played on repeat the entire weekend when the news was slow. 

 

That did not stop me because I was sure to take a very therapeutic release.  As a person who likes to write - putting my thoughts in writing, like this piece, brings me peace.  I drafted a letter, that I initially did not even remember writing until this issue reappeared later.  I never sent the letter, but knowing myself I spent a good portion of time crafting out all my thoughts and anger towards the woman who accused me.  I threatened to sue her in the letter and told her I was gathering all sorts of evidence.  I did not.  I could have.  I should have.  But it would have only gone to distract me from my goals.  I didn't want to put energy into it.  So I drove all my energy into a nasty-gram letter that never saw the light of day.  Reading it back, it is pretty nasty yet funny.  I can feel my angry energy jumping off the page.  I can read all hurt in my heart on every line.  

That is what you call #BigMad! Glad I never sent that letter because I would have likely been #BigEmbarrassed! This letter will always be a great reminder - don't hit send on my angry-nasty-grams.  

 

The next Saturday morning, I woke up and began knocking on doors in East Point.  Although I hated walking in the heat down the long driveways of the south Fulton communities, I typically loved talking to people.  I loved hearing their concerns and answering their questions.  But the day after the hearing I recoiled every time I heard someone unlocking their door in response to me ringing the bell.  As my Saturday of canvassing continued to go well, I started to forget the previous day. 

 

As soon as I thought the coast was clear it happened.  Someone recognized me from the news.  I remember walking down the gentleman’s driveway as he sat in his carport.  I handed him my literature and introduced myself.  “I recognize you.  You were just on the news.  They said you stole that girls card.”  I wanted to sink into the concrete.  In my head, my campaign was over.  “I didn’t believe it when I saw it,” the man continued.  “That means you are winning if they are trying that hard to stop you girl.  Keep doing what you are doing” the man said.  I was relieved but not convinced everyone would feel the same way. 

 

My predecessor laughed.  He called the attempt to slander my name a dumb move. “It was too soon,” former State Representative Joe Heckstall chuckled.  “People won’t remember what they said about you on the news by the time the election gets here.  They are just going to remember your name,” he laughed.  “Whomever did this just got you more votes and won you the election.”  I was not convinced.

 

I was embarrassed.  I was frustrated that I was accused of stealing from the shopping center where I worked to reduce thefts.  I was pissed I was accused of stealing from a gym that I no longer felt comfortable going to.  I was angry my name was slandered to my former colleagues in the East Point Police Department and the DA’s office.  I was saddened that my WOW students, not just the one I picked up that morning, would see their mentor being accused of a crime.  No one, except my husband, father, and campaign manager knew how devastated I was about this accusation. I worked hard to keep a tough exterior and pushed through. 

 

Apparently, Joe was right.  I went into a run off and eventually won the election.  I won the run off election 65 to 35.  I killed my opponent.  “God don’t like ugly,” my grandmother would say.  I became the State Representative for District 62 and served proudly. 

 

I saw Tom Jones after the election as he was wrapping up a report in another county.  I approached him and began to ask how he got wind of the story and why did he report on a non-issue.  I wanted to ask if he was put up to it.  But I didn’t.  I just asked if he remembered me and told him I ultimately won.  His response was polite but made me suspect he already knew that.  I also suspected he wouldn’t tell the truth even if I had asked.  Over the years I began to see a pattern where Tom was the sole reporter on stories connected to my former opponent.  I still find that suspicious.

 

A shorter version of this story has been shared dozens of times.  I use it as a lesson for future candidates to keep pushing through.  Each time I share it with a new group of candidates their eyes widen.  A candidate cannot think of anything worse than being accused of a crime.  I also share this story with my clients.  In those moments where they are in despair and wondering if they will go down for a crime they didn’t commit, I share with them that I understand what it feels like to be falsely accused.  Every time I share this story with a client I can see the relief come across their face as if to say, “she does understand.” 

I had filed this experience away as one of life’s little lessons.  I chalked it up as one of those experiences God intended.  It truly did make me a much better lawyer.  But before I could truly heal from the experience it happened.  I saw her – the alleged victim. 

 

More than a year after the election, my husband and I went out on a date night.  Neither of us are clubbers.  We were past the years of standing around with music so loud you can’t hear yourself think.  I believe we went to the trendy nightclub for a friend’s birthday.  As I walked through the crowd I spotted her grinding wildly with someone I recognized.  She was dancing with the father of one of my daughter’s classmate.  He also happened to work at Westlake. I watched from a distance as she whispered in his ear and they giggled.  They were clearly there together.  He was married, but not to her.  He still had on his ring and when he looked up and saw me staring his eyes got very wide. 

 

I tapped my husband, “that’s her.  That’s the girl that accused me of stealing her debit card.”  Before my husband could process what I said through the loud music, I was gone.  I made a b-line directly to her and tapped her on the shoulder.  “Do you remember me?” I yelled over the music.  She looked at me up and down.  “Listen,” I continued not waiting for her to answer.  She knew exactly who I was.  “I just need to know did [my opponent] put you up to accusing me?”  I used my opponents name, but because of her response, I’ll just leave it as “my opponent” for the purposes of this story.  “NO!” she screamed.  “I just want to know why you did that to me.”  I tried to say in a non-threatening voice.  Trying to appear calm while screaming over hip hop music in a club is as hard as you would think.  “NO! I want to know why you stole my card.” She yelled back at me.  I turned to her apparent love interest.  “Please tell her I wouldn’t do that” I pled with him. 

 

In retrospect, he likely had no clue what I was talking about and was wondering if I was there to tattletale about his encounter with this unmarried woman at the club.  I don’t know if he even knew about the case or knew what I did at Westlake.  In my head he would tell her, “no this woman volunteers every week for free to mentor teenaged girls – she is a trusted member of her community, there is no way she stole your card.”  In reality he was probably worried about his own issues. 

 

Once he realized that this encounter had nothing to do with him he leaned over and said, “don’t worry I will talk to her.”  She grabbed his hand and they walked into the darkness.  I turned to see my husband glaring at me.  On the way home I recounted the conversation that I knew he couldn’t hear over the music.  As I started to go into how her response was the first time I had an inkling of doubt that my political opponent put her up to falsely accusing me.  My husband’s response, “I don’t know why  you said anything at all.  You won.  Let it go.” 

 

Although he was right, as he normally is, my husband didn’t understand how I felt to be accused.  “You don’t know how that could have gone terribly wrong.  What if that woman would have hit you?  What if she accused you of attacking her.  If she lied once what makes you think she wouldn’t lie on you again?” he said frustrated.  I hadn’t thought about that.  All I thought about in that moment was I wanted answers.  I wanted proof of what I already presumed in my head.  I haven’t seen Camille ever again.

 

Almost six years later, this issue re-appeared.  Just like that night in the club, I’ve never hesitated in being outspoken.  That outspokenness has garnered me my fair share of supporters and haters.  One hater in particular has attempted to make this nonstory a story on several occasions.  After years of doing defense work, I’ve recently gone back into public service work.  My sole hater – really hates that. 

 

When bad mouthing me to everyone to prevent me from getting positions did not work he then took it to the next level.  He began calling every news station in the Atlanta area to report, “LBJ was also a thief, she was accused stealing a debit card in 2012.”  A salacious enough anonymous call for it to be pitched in the morning news meeting at every station.  Luckily for me, after leaving the General Assembly in 2016 I stumbled upon a new interest – television hosting. 

 

For about two years I began to act as a guest host for legal and political topics.  I appeared regularly on one local station and then quickly began appearing on national networks.  I also became a go to person for four of the five local station for all things politics.  The political reporters had my cell phone and if they needed a political opinion and I was available I would let them interview me on the topic of the day.  I’m sure when my name was mentioned in the morning meeting it got the same response from my new reporter friends that the East Point police officers and District Attorney’s office staff had years before. “Not LaDawn,” I imagine them saying out loud.

 

Luckily, my reputation proceeded me.  Every station did their due diligence and called me about it.  Because the stations don’t share their anonymous tips with other stations, it was clear that this person literally called every station the same day hoping someone would pick up on the story.  One of the reporters who I had helped out in a bind really wanted me to go on air and deny the story.  I refused to go on the record.  I shared with him, like I did all the stations, how much of a Rockstar I had been that day.  I explained this person is simply trying to embarrass me and I would not give them the pleasure of seeing me on the news.  The reporter slipped up and told me just enough facts about the reporting party to let me know who it was.  The reporter said, he has a woman’s name and was a candidate for office.  I immediately knew who it was. 

 

The most aggressive station did not call me.  They were still working the story.  Unfortunately, the reporter was not aware that I had just entered an agreement to begin doing regular appearances on that station days before.  When I had to call the news director to explain what was going on I was nervous as I was when I appeared before the judge.  But like the judge, the DA, the police, and the community – the story was clearly a non-story and went nowhere.   

 

Although it was a non-issue, it was clear that this case that I thought would be buried forever may continue to pop up every few years.  Although I discuss it regularly by choice, it is far more embarrassing when someone else tells the story.  Particularly when they leave out the part about me saving the world all before 10am. 

 

I delight in informing my hater, my perseverance through the embarrassing moments surrounding this matter continues to be one of the highlights of my career.  There is no doubt that he is reading this.  There is no doubt that he spent hours of energy attempting to bring me down.  What he doesn’t know is I took that energy, redirected it and now I have the first 6,000 words for my future memoir.  Thank you hater.

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