CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill has been indicted by a federal grand jury for civil rights violations. The indictment involves allegations first reported by Channel 2 Action News.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne learned that Hill was indicted April 19. On Monday, a judge granted a motion by the government to unseal the indictment.
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The indictment alleges abuses involving a restraint chair in the Clayton County Jail, with several victims. The initials and allegations concerning one victim match those of a man interviewed by Winne in June of last year.
Hill faces four counts of deprivation of rights under color of law. These charges carry a maximum of 10 years in prison, according to prosecutors.
The sheriff shared the following statement on the charges:
“Today I will begin the process of fighting a political motivated federal legal case. My legal team are the only ones authorized to speak on the details of this matter, and they are confident about the facts of this case. Meanwhile, as we go through this process, I will continue to focus on the mission of fighting crime in Clayton County for continued success.”
Hill was taken into federal custody and had a bond hearing at the federal courthouse in downtown Atlanta. A judge granted Hill a $50,000 bond, which the sheriff posted.
Channel 2′s Richard Elliot attended a news conference after the bond hearing where federal prosecutors laid out the indictment against Hill.
Federal agents said Hill personally ordered personnel at the Clayton County Jail to strap the four victims into restraint chairs as punishment.
“Hill deprive the detainees of their due process rights because the use of such force is reasonable and unnecessary and amounted to punishment,” Kurk Erskine said.
FBI assistant special agent in charge Chris Macrae said they have to work to restore trust in law enforcement.
“Badges and guns don’t come with the authority to ignore the Constitution. They come with a responsibility to protect it from anyone who would violate it, especially another public servant,” he said.
Shortly after Hill left the courthouse, Elliot spoke with the sheriff’s attorney Drew Findling.
“We will defend it. We will defend it vigorously because it is truly a four count disgraceful series of allegations,” he said.
Findling called the indictment nonsense and called the use of restraint chairs commonplace in jails across the country.
“We’re literally shocked and we’re disappointed. We thought there was a new time and era for the Department of Justice of the United States,” he said.
Channel 2′s Tom Jones has covered Hill’s career since he left the police department and first ran for sheriff. There are residents who support Hill and others who say he has gone too far.
Hill has a strong reputation for fighting crime and cleaning up the county.
“He gets the job done. That’s what I like,” one resident told Jones.
Hill also has a strong reputation for firing employees and arresting people for repeatedly emailing or calling him.
“He’s not always protecting and serving the county like he should,” another resident said.
[RELATED: Jury acquits Victor Hill in corruption trial]
People who support the sheriff admit that he can go overboard. Meanwhile, Hill’s detractors weren’t surprised he was indicted.
“Sometimes he might be a little excessive but other than that he’s good.”
“I haven’t experienced anything personal but from what I heard and what he’s indicted on it kind of lines up.”
VICTIM DETAILS ALLEGATIONS AGAINST HILL
Channel 2 Action News dug through every page of the indictment released Tuesday. The alleged victims are identified by their initials in the indictment, but the details for one victim match allegations made last year.
Attorney Lee Sexton confirmed the allegations about “Victim G.H.” in the indictment match allegations in civil litigation concerning his client Glenn Howell.
Howell claimed that Hill strapped him into a restraint chair for hours and then locked him in a suicide watch cell wearing nothing but a paper gown.
“I’m in fear of my life of what he’s going to do,” Howell said in an exclusive interview with Winne in June.
Sexton said his client did some work for one of Hill’s deputies and threatened to bring legal action against the deputy for non-payment. The lawyer said his client received a call from someone claiming to be Hill suggesting he back off his pursuit of the deputy’s debt.
Howell said he didn’t believe it was really the sheriff until later, not even after a FaceTime call, and said he used profanity.
He said they exchanged text messages and the next day, he learned that heavily-armed Clayton County fugitive investigators visited at least two houses in Butts County looking to arrest him on a misdemeanor charge of harassing communications.
“I was in fear of my life. I didn’t know which way to turn,” Howell said.
Hill’s lawyer denied the allegations.
“Victor Hill has done nothing wrong regarding anybody,” defense attorney Drew Findling said.