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Georgia Sheriff Victor Hill Facing Criminal Trial for Using Restraint Chair to Punish Jail Detainees

by David M. Reutter

Victor Hill, Sheriff of Georgia’s Clayton County, will face a jury trial on September 26, 2022, on seven federal charges of violating the civil rights of jail detainees held in a restraint chair as punishment.

In April 2021, Hill was indicted for the alleged abuse of four detainees identified as J.A., C.H., J.H. and G.H. in February and April 2020. The indictment says they were placed in a restraint chair while being “unarmed, not under the influence of drugs, and offering no resistance,” after which Hill allegedly threatened two of the victims:

“I’m a sit your a** in that chair for sixteen hours straight. Do you understand me? I need to hear from both of y’all that y’all not gonna show y’all’s a** in my county no more.”

Gov. Brian Kemp (R) then suspended Hill in June 2021. The following month a superseding indictment was unsealed charging the Sheriff with abusing a fifth detainee, identified as W.T., in May 2020. [See: PLN, Nov. 2021, p.16.]

A new superseding indictment issued on March 19, 2022, added two more detainees, identified as R.P. and D.B., who were allegedly abused in December 2019 and February 2020. That brought the total number of alleged victims to seven. The indictment says Hill violated the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) “Inmate Restraint Chair Policy,” which is consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause in emphasizing that use of a restraint chair “will never be authorized as a form of punishment.”

On December 29, 2021, a U.S. Magistrate Judge recommended against dismissing the case. Noting Hill’s argument that the standards he was accused of violating were unclear at the time, Judge Christopher C. Bly called himself “unpersuaded,” pointing also to the indictment’s charge that Hill “ordered the use of force … without any legitimate purpose, against individuals who were not resisting and did not pose a threat.” See: United States v. Hill, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 257635 (N.D. Ga.).

Overruling Hill’s objections, the federal court for the Northern District of Georgia then adopted Bly’s report and recommendation on May 5, 2022, refusing to dismiss the case and scheduling it for trial. See: United States v. Hill, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81938 (N.D. Ga.).

Hill has made headlines since the first day he took office on January 1, 2005, when he terminated 34 employees who then walked out of the county jail under the scopes of snipers he had posted on the roof. The fired employees, most of whom were white—Hill is Black—were paid $7 million in 2007 to settle a wrongful termination lawsuit they filed. [See: PLN, May 2008, p.36.]

After losing his bid for re-election in 2008, Hill was indicted on four counts of racketeering, 20 counts of theft by taking, two counts of making a false statement, and one count each of violating oath of a public officer and influencing a witness. But he won the next election in 2012, and a county jury acquitted him on all charges on August 15, 2013.

The next month, in September 2013, Hill was sued by three of his CCSO employees, claiming that he retaliated against them for their role in the previous lawsuit settled in 2007. The county then reportedly settled with the three former deputies—Brian Crisp, Jeffrey Mitchell and Garland Watkins—for $750,000 on August 22, 2016. Plaintiffs were represented by attorney Harlan Stuart Miller III of Miller Legal, P.C. in Macon. See: Crisp v. Hill, USDC (N.D. Ga.), Case No. 1:13-cv-03044.

On May 3, 2015, Hill was practicing “police tactics” with a realtor friend, Gwenevere McCord, at a model home in Gwinnett County when there was a mix-up with the guns being used and he shot the woman. She recovered and expressed desire for Hill not to be punished, calling the shooting an accident. Hill then reportedly pleaded no contest to reckless conduct in county court and accepted a $1,000 fine and 12 months of probation.

A year and half later, in November 2016, he was re-elected to his third term.

Not quite two years after that, in August 2018, Hill arrested South Atlanta Magazine publisher Gerrian Hawes for sending “harassing” emails that criticized the Sheriff for the December 2017 firing of her husband, former Deputy Robert Hawes, who had just announced his candidacy to run against Hill in the 2020 election. Her husband was then also arrested on charges he sold his county-issued firearm and, when he was supposed to turn it, presented another weapon purchased from a pawn shop. Hawes was disqualified by the county Democratic Party in the run-up to the election.

In November 2020, Hill was re-elected to a fourth term.

Just before that, in July 2020, Hill was sued by detainees claiming the county jail did not take measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Allegedly, the jail did not provide masks to prisoners and in several cases housed three prisoners in cells made for two, frustrating detainees’ ability to practice social distancing.

The federal court for the Northern District of Georgia certified that suit as a class-action on December 29, 2020, appointing as class counsel Plaintiffs’ attorneys, currently L. Joseph Loveland, Jr. of Atlanta; Ryan Primerano, Christina Wilson Remlin and Whitney Knox Lee of the Southern Center for Human Rights; and Andres Martin Lopez-Delgado of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. The parties went to mediation in April 2022. See: Jones v. Hill, USDC (N.D. Ga.), Case No. 1:20-cv-02791.

PLN will report developments as they become available in the current case against Hill. See: United States v. Hill, USDC (N.D. Ga.), Case No. 1:21-cr-00143. 

Additional sources: Associated Press, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Henry Herald, Newsweek, WXIA

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