Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill’s troubles go beyond federal indictment

Marcia Body sits in her Jonesboro home with her dog Dora. Body, a cancer survivor, said she had to improvise a face mask when COVID-19 hit the Clayton County Jail. (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Marcia Body sits in her Jonesboro home with her dog Dora. Body, a cancer survivor, said she had to improvise a face mask when COVID-19 hit the Clayton County Jail. (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Controversial Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill is suspended from office and faces a federal indictment on allegations he violated the civil rights of detainees.

But that’s not the end of his legal woes.

The embattled lawman and the Clayton County Jail he ran with an iron-fist is the subject of at least six pending lawsuits and close to a dozen individual allegations of abuse.

Complainants in the civil suits allege everything from being roughed-up by jail guards to having their human rights denied.

In addition, a revolving door of deputies and staffers have gone before the Clayton Civil Service Board over the last few years seeking to reverse demotions or terminations from the controversial sheriff.

“If you’re trying to survey all the issues that Sheriff Hill has gone through over the years, you’re going to need a lot of pages to get through everything,’ said Cody Cutting, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, which is suing Hill along with the American Civil Liberties Union over alleged COVID-19 violations at the jail. “There’s a pretty serious history there.

“Even if you limit it to things that he’s currently facing, there’s a lot more than the indictment,” he said.

Lawsuits against jails and those who run them are not unusual, but experts say those facing Hill stand out because of the severity of what is alleged and the lawman’s tough guy posture as the “CRIME FIGHTER.”

It’s also a drain on county funds as thousands of tax dollars are used to represent Hill and the jail in court. The full cost is not yet clear as many of the lawsuits are still working their way through the judicial system.

“There’s a long line of people wanting to get some” of the sheriff, Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner said. “But we have insurance. It’s only good for $750,000. Any judgment over that we have to pay out of our fund balance.”

Hill suspended by Gov. Kemp

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia in April announced an indictment of Hill on four counts of violating the civil rights of detainees at the jail in 2020. He is accused of strapping them into restraining chairs as punishment. Hill has denied the allegations.

On Wednesday, Gov. Brian Kemp suspended the sheriff — who has led the office since 2012 — until the charges are adjudicated or his term in office expires in 2024.

One of the men Hill is accused of strapping in the restraining chair also filed a civil suit against him. Hill swore out a warrant against Glen Howell, a Butts County landscaper, after the sheriff stepped in a dispute over payment between a Clayton Sheriff’s Office deputy and the landscaper.

Howell, who is suing Hill on the grounds of excessive force and infliction of emotional distress during his arrest, alleges that he spent six hours in a restraining chair after he was jailed. Howell said Hill got in his face shortly after he arrived and berated and taunted him, including using an expletive.

Lee Sexton, an attorney for Howell, said the sheriff’s alleged actions take typical jailhouse complaints to another level.

“You see frivolous lawsuits all the time, particularly in a jailhouse setting,” he said. “You get a jailhouse lawyer who believes he knows how to draft a lawsuit and does so, but it is summarily dismissed. This case is not one of those.”

Mounting accusations

Other lawsuits include those from Marlon Brown, who is suing Hill for retaining a deputy accused of throwing him into an elevator wall in 2017; and Stephanie Campbell, a former service clerk who says she was wrongfully terminated after she sought accommodations to address her diabetes.

Brown, who filed his lawsuit in January, said Hill was negligent in retaining Deputy Patrick Fluellen, who had numerous complaints against him before he allegedly threw him into the wall. Hill stood by Fluellen — who said Brown hit the wall after tripping — until a videotape surfaced showing Brown being thrown.

Hill suspended Fluellen pending a Georgia Bureau of Investigation examination. Fluellen was arrested and charged with aggravated battery and violation of his oath of office.

Brown, who sustained several chipped and cracked teeth, also is suing Fluellen in the lawsuit for battery and assault — and is suing both the former deputy and the sheriff for emotional distress.

Staffers for the department have also pleaded their cases over demotions of terminations in recent years. In September 2019, employees Heather Roscoe, Brenda Thomas and Monique Kidd appealed their firings to the Clayton County Civil Service Board.

Jessica Cino, a law professor at Georgia State University, said detainee violations and an unhappy staff is indicative of an organization that is being poorly run.

“There is an overriding approach of being in charge of people that don’t deserve any respect because they did something bad,” she said. “Also, in this particular circumstance there seems to be a lot of internal problems.”

First-hand experience

Rhonda Jones, who was part of a class-action lawsuit the Southern Center for Civil Rights filed against the Sheriff’s Office last year over alleged COVID-19 failures, said an improved Clayton County Jail is personal for her.

Jones had just been released from the hospital after a bout with pneumonia in early 2020 when she was taken into custody by the Clayton Sheriff’s Office following a domestic dispute. Jones said she was placed in a cell with two other women, even though the space was designed for only two people.

For months she slept on the floor as one of her cellmates was release and quickly replaced by a new detainee. As COVID-19 spread unabated in early 2020, her only protection was an improvised face mask she made out of a bra.

The jail began distributing face masks to inmates in July 2020.

“I’m glad the feds are investigating Clayton County,” she said.

Marcia Body agrees. She was in the jail from May 2019 to June 2020 after being accused of trafficking 32 grams of heroin.

Like Jones, she also was part of the Southern Center’s litigation and said she had to improvise her safety. She also had two cellmates in a space meant for two.

“I ended up tying up my underwear as a mask,” the 53-year-old said, adding that she is a cancer survivor who suffers from thyroids and believes she should have been separated from the general population because of the heightened risks of COVID-19 to older people.