Ga. governor suspends sheriff indicted on federal civil rights charges
Sheriff Victor Hill was charged in April with violating the civil rights of inmates by punishing them with restraint chairs
By Leon Stafford
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
JONESBORO, Ga. — Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill has been suspended by Gov. Brian Kemp, after a panel appointed by the governor said a federal indictment accusing the controversial sheriff of violating the civil rights of inmates would negatively impact his duties.
In an executive order issued Wednesday, Kemp suspended Hill "immediately and without further action pending the final disposition of the case or until the expiration of his term."
Kemp's order says the three-person review panel found "that the indictment of Victor Hill does relate to and does adversely affect the administration of the office of Clayton Sheriff, and that the rights and the interests of the public are adversely affected thereby; and recommended that Victor Hill be suspended from office."
It is unclear who will run the sheriff's office during Hill's suspension.
Hill, who calls himself "The Crime Fighter," was indicted on federal charges April 19 for allegedly violating the civil rights of jail detainees over several months in 2020, by strapping four men into restraint chairs as a form of punishment.
Hill has denied the charges. His attorney, Drew Findling, said the sheriff is disappointed by the governor's decision.
"We remain confident that ultimately Sheriff Hill will be completely exonerated," Findling said in a statement. "Thereafter, the executive order will be moot and the citizens of Clayton County will have Sheriff Hill, their duly elected sheriff, back in office."
Hill, a popular sheriff who has served in that role since 2012, was elected in November to a new four-year term. He has been a constant subject of controversy since he first won office as sheriff in 2005 — when one of his first acts was to fire 27 sheriff's office employees and post snipers on a jail's roof as the staffers were escorted from the building.
He lost reelection in 2008, but bounced back to a win in 2012, even though he was facing an indictment at the time on charges of racketeering, theft by taking and making a false statement. He was later acquitted of the charges.
Hill also accidentally shot a friend while demonstrating "police tactics" during a date in 2015 and took into custody the wife of a rival for office in 2018.
Sara Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, said Wednesday that Hill has proved that he does not deserve the public's trust as sheriff.
The group filed a lawsuit against the Clayton Sheriff's Office last year alleging it failed to properly protect detainees from COVID-19, including putting as many as three people in jail cells designed for two.
"His years of cruel mistreatment and disregard for the health and safety of people incarcerated in his jail is the tip of the iceberg of the evidence against him," Totonchi said.
In the federal case he currently faces, Hill is accused of restraining four detainees in a chair for hours, including a Clayton youth who had just turned 17. The teen had been arrested for allegedly vandalizing his home during an argument with his mother.
In another incident, Hill allegedly restrained a Butts County landscaper after sending a "fugitive squad with handguns and AR-15 rifles" to arrest him for what Hill said were harassing phone calls. The sheriff had stepped into a dispute over payment between the landscaper and a Clayton County deputy who hired him.
Gov. Kemp in late May appointed state Attorney General Chris Carr, Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams and Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds to review the federal charges and determine whether each "affects the administration of the duties by Sheriff Hill such that the rights and interests of the public are adversely affected."
The panel reached its decision on Tuesday, the governor's executive order said.
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