Clayton sheriff candidates: yes to audits, no to self-promotion

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Candidates for Clayton County sheriff on Tuesday vowed that if elected they will not splash their names all over cars and billboards like the man they hope to replace, former Sheriff Victor Hill.

Instead they pledged to conduct an audit of spending at the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office to determine why the jail it operates is beset by gang violence, at least 27 deaths since 2009 and is the subject of detainee lawsuits about unsanitary conditions — including toilets that don’t work, feces and urine on floors and crowded cells.

“I have my own car,” Terry Evans, a former Marine and Clayton County sheriff’s deputy, said. “If I want to write my name on it I will. Those vehicles belong to you ... What do I look like writing on your stuff.”

Chris Storey, a former Clayton jail correctional officer and commander in the sheriff’s office, agreed.

”But there are other sheriff’s offices around the state of Georgia that actually put their names on them,” he said of sheriff’s vehicles. “The only reason it became a problem in Clayton County is because former convicted sheriff Victor Hill had the biggest font he could put on there. I think they saw it from NASA.”

At least five candidates are vying to replace Hill, who was convicted by a federal jury in October of violating the civil rights of six detainees by strapping them into restraint chairs as a form of punishment. A special election to fill the remaining months of Hill’s term — he was reelected sheriff in 2020 — will be held March 21.

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The forum was cordial and humorous as four of the five attending candidates mostly agreed with one another on strategies to rebuild trust in the sheriff’s office. Those include improving staff morale, better training for jailers and partnering with mental health agencies and religious organizations to address detainee health needs.

Interim Sheriff Levon Allen was a no-show, though organizers said he was invited.

The candidates said there would be more transparency under their administrations, including hiring people to answer calls to the sheriff’s office, creating a public information office and requiring deputies and their cars to be fitted with cameras.

Dwayne Fabian, a former Georgia State Patrol trooper, said he also would establish a citizens review board that could investigate allegations against deputies, whether it be gunfire or excessive force. Citizens from all walks of life would be included on the board so that he gets broad feedback from which to decide an employee’s fate.

“That’s transparency,” he said.

But it was Hill and Allen at whom the candidates aimed most of their fire.

Hill has been poison for Clayton County, they said, dividing the community between supporters who maintain that the former sheriff has been unfairly targeted by the FBI and media, while others call him a weight on the community’s attempt to move forward.

Allen, his opponents said, would be more of the same if elected. Handpicked by Hill, Allen was appointed interim sheriff in late December. He recently began stripping Hill’s name off sheriff’s vehicles and putting his own on the cars instead.

The interim sheriff could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

“If you want more of the same, vote for the absent chair over there,” said candidate Clarence Cox, chief investigator for the Fulton County Solicitor General’s Office, nodding toward the empty chair that was set up for Allen. “I’m not running against any of these guys, I’m running for change.”