Next Ga. county sheriff to face lingering issues over jail facility, staffing
Though he is no longer sheriff, Victor Hill continues to be named in lawsuits about conditions at the Clayton County Jail and the treatment of detainees by staff
By Leon Stafford
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA — Though he is no longer sheriff, convicted felon Victor Hill continues to be named in lawsuits about conditions at the Clayton County Jail and the treatment of detainees by staff.
Nine new lawsuits have been filed since Hill’s conviction by a federal jury in October, for violating the civil rights of six detainees by strapping them in restraint chairs as punishment.
The litigation, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, accuses Hill and jailers of cruel and unusual punishment, mental anguish, false arrest and use of a restraint chair in one case. Also named in the various suits are Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, Clayton County Police Chief Kevin Roberts and Clayton County Interim Sheriff Levon Allen.
The lawsuits come as Clayton County voters will elect a new sheriff in a special election March 21. A candidate forum will be held Tuesday night at the Tabernacle of Praise Church International in Jonesboro.
Hill’s attorney, Drew Findling, could not be immediately reached for comment on the new suits. The Clayton County Sheriff’s Office also could not be reached.
In a lawsuit filed Jan. 24, LaShaundra Partee alleged that she was put in a “suicide watch” cell after she was hurt by officers after she arrived. The suit says she showed no signs of intending to harm herself. The cell was unclean, with feces and urine on the floor because of a toilet that wasn’t working, according to the suit.
Partee, who had been arrested earlier that day on allegations of DUI and following a vehicle too closely, also alleged that despite her pleas, she had urinated on herself after being arrested because she was forced to sit in the back of a Clayton squad car for two hours.
“They gave her a thin mat to lie on the floor among feces and urine,” Partee’s attorney Michael Russ Jr. said on Monday of her time in the “suicide watch” cell. “I think anyone could imagine that nothing like that should take place in any jail, or prison for that matter.”
Clayton is not alone in allegations of unsanitary facility conditions. The DeKalb County Jail in 2019 was accused of backed-up toilets, moldy food and sewage leaks. The Fulton County Jail late last year was accused of not doing enough to prevent lice and scabies among some detainees.
But the Southern Center for Human Rights and the ACLU of Georgia seemed to indicate in a news release that Clayton in particular had work to do in keeping the facility sanitary. In a November announcement during which the two groups said they had dismissed their 2020 lawsuit against Clayton County for not better protecting detainees against COVID-19, they said detainees still lived in “filthy, inhumane conditions.”
“While this COVID-19 case is being dismissed, the squalid, dangerous, and inhumane conditions at CCJ remain,” ACLU of Georgia attorney Andrés López-Delgado said of the Clayton jail. “People incarcerated at CCJ continue to be housed in a filthy and cruel environment and continue to be at serious risk of harm. They and the communities from which they come — and to which they will return — remain threatened until the jail reckons with its practices and drastically reforms its conditions.”
Other lawsuits against the jail include accusations by Jermaine Marignay, who said in his Dec. 19 lawsuit that he felt suicidal because of the conditions of the facility. He claimed there was no running water in his cell and that the toilet did not flush.
“Moving my bowels and urinating is a basic human right,” Marignay’s lawsuit says. “It’s not a privilege. There is no way inmates should be denied that.”
In a lawsuit filed Dec. 5, Victor Leary alleged he too was housed in a cell with no running toilet and that he “urinated and soiled his jumpsuit on more than one occasion after being repeatedly denied the ability to use the bathroom.”
Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, said he was last in the Clayton jail about nine years ago and found the facility to be spotless. He wonders if the issues, if true, are related to its age and overuse.
“The conditions do rapidly go down” as they age, he said. “If you think about the usage of jails, the number of people in and out of jails, it’s not uncommon for them to become dilapidated and have to be patched together.”
However, he said all jail operators have to be laser-focused on keeping conditions sanitary.
“If you’re hearing those things about feces on the floor and all that,” he said, “that’s unsanitary and unacceptable.”
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