Sheriff fires, demotes deputies after ‘inaction' during deadly shooting

Clayton County sheriff said the deputies acted like cowards during a deadly shooting.

CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — Two Clayton County sheriff’s deputies will be fired and a third will be demoted after they allegedly failed to respond to a deadly shooting in accordance with agency standards.

The shooting at The Oasis event center Saturday night resulted in the death of 27-year-old Juan Perez Salazar and the arrest of 17-year-old murder suspect Jorge Beltran. The two were attending a quinceanera, a coming-of-age celebration for Latina girls, at the Jonesboro Road facility.

"While my special forces did a excellent job capturing the murder suspect within 48 hours, there were inactions by some of my personnel that was unacceptable," Sheriff Victor Hill said Tuesday morning in a public advisory.

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Two of the deputies, a sergeant and a captain who were not named, were working security for the party in an off-duty capacity. They did not receive agency approval for the job, Hill said.

“I think they need to know every detail about it before you take a person’s job from them,” said resident Angela Allen.

According to authorities, Salazar was shot when he tried to stop a fight between Beltran and another individual. A witness ran outside for the deputies’ help when the fight broke out.

“When they came inside and the fatal shot was fired, both deputies turned around and fled out of the door along with the fleeing crowd,” Hill said. “To make matters worse, both of them failed to render aid to the victim.”

Clayton County police officers were called to respond to the scene just after midnight. Salazar was found with a gunshot wound to his chest and ultimately died of his injuries.

The third deputy implicated by the sheriff, an unnamed lieutenant, also responded to the scene. He was reportedly made aware of the “cowardly behavior” of the sergeant and captain but did not notify command staff, Hill said.

“The sheriff’s office has a constitutional duty to protect that is mandated by law,” he said. “Therefore, there is no excuse that is acceptable for this malfeasance of duty.”

Both the sergeant and the captain are to be fired Tuesday morning and will not be allowed to resign, according to the sheriff.  They could also face criminal charges if the district attorney decides to prosecute.

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The lieutenant was demoted two ranks down to deputy and has been removed from field operations. Hill said he did “everything in my power to rectify this situation” expeditiously and without hesitation.

“I don’t agree with the firings but maybe another punishment of some sort,” Allen said.

Hill’s office typically does not respond to media requests and releases information directly to the public using the Nixle notification service. It is not clear if the names of the deputies involved will be released at a later time.

Hill himself has been disciplined in the past for conduct unbefitting his role as sheriff. In 2015, he accidentally shot a woman while practicing police tactics in an empty model home with what Hill assumed was a training weapon. The woman, a real estate agent and friend of Hill's, was critically injured.

He later pleaded no contest to a single count of reckless conduct. His law enforcement certification was suspended in 2017 by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, the state agency that regulates and certifies officers.

The council found at the time that Hill’s actions were “unprofessional,” violated state law and were “indicative of bad moral character or trustworthiness.” The decision to put his certification on a two-year probation did not have any effect on his job as sheriff, but it did require him to take new courses on firearms training and ethics.

It is also not the first time Hill has clashed with subordinates. Hill, a divisive figure in Clayton County, immediately fired 27 employees when he first took office in 2005 and dramatically placed snipers on the roof as the staffers were escorted out of the sheriff’s department, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.

He has twice taken out arrest warrants against former employees who went toe-to-toe with him.

A computer trespassing charge against a former chaplain was dismissed in 2018 after languishing seven months in the court system. Rodney Williams was arrested three days after he was fired from the department because of a critical email he sent former co-workers on his last day.

In the email, Williams called Hill and “evil man” and said his leadership was “toxic.” One month after that case was put to bed, Hill first jailed the wife of Robert Hawes, an ex-deputy, and then Hawes following a series of emails his wife sent to the sheriff.

Hawes, who at one point announced his intention to run for sheriff, was jailed on charges of filing false documentation and violation of oath of office related to a past issue with a missing weapon. Both he and his wife Gerrian were later released on bond. Gerrian Hawes’ case is pending in State Court, but the status of Robert Hawes’ case is unclear.