Ex-Clayton Sheriff Victor Hill files appeal of conviction

Victor Hill listens to his defense attorney Drew Finley make his plea statement for leniency Tuesday, March 15, 2023.  (Lauren Lacy for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Credit: Lauren Lacy for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Lauren Lacy for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Victor Hill listens to his defense attorney Drew Finley make his plea statement for leniency Tuesday, March 15, 2023. (Lauren Lacy for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Attorneys for former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill have appealed the lawman’s October felony convictions for violating the civil rights of jail detainees.

Hill, 58, became one of the state’s most well-known sheriffs during his almost 15-year tenure as Clayton’s top cop, because of his bravado and claim that the county facility he ran was “Georgia’s toughest para-military jail.”

But on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Eleanor Ross sentenced him to 18 months in prison, six years of probation and 100 hours of community service. Ross called Hill arrogant and forbade him from working in law enforcement upon his release, including as a consultant.

Hill’s appeal, filed Wednesday, will be heard by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Federal prosecutors indicted Hill in April 2021 on charges that he violated the civil rights of seven detainees by ordering them strapped to restraint chairs for hours, even though they were not a threat to themselves or others. The jury found Hill guilty on all but one count.

Hill’s attorney, Drew Findling, said after Tuesday’s sentencing that he would appeal the former sheriff’s conviction on several grounds.

First, Findling said, the federal government failed to provide prior notice to Hill that the way he was using the chair was illegal. Second, Findling had concerns that a juror had been pressured to produce a verdict despite his alleged reservations.

The jury appeared deadlocked on a verdict during several days of deliberations after the foreman said she was troubled that one juror was struggling cognitively with the case. The foreman said because of this, she feared the jury could not come up with a verdict.

But Ross brought the man out and asked him if he was able to make a decision. When he said yes, the judge returned the jury to deliberations.

“The issue that jumps out ... is that the jury was out for four days and the juror that held out was brought out for individual questioning, which was somewhat unheard of in my experience,” Findling said.

Hill remains free on bond pending a date for his incarceration. Findling asked the court Tuesday that Hill be sent to a minimum security prison camp and that officials take into consideration his safety because he is a former law enforcement officer.

“He has been dealing with people charged with crime, both as an elected sheriff and as a homicide detective,” Findling said. “So you don’t know ... who he’s going to encounter in a correctional facility and he’s going to have somewhat of a target (on him).

“We want to make sure he’s in as much of a secure and safe setting as possible,” Findling said.

Hill has been a controversial leader, stationing snipers on the Clayton jail’s roof after firing sheriff’s office staff his first day on the job in 2005 and getting into hot water a decade later after he said he shot a female friend at a Gwinnett model home. Hill said his gun went off accidentally as he practicing “police tactics.”

He also was acquitted in 2013 of all charges in a 32-count Clayton County district attorneys office indictment, which included four counts of racketeering.

Federal officials had recommended Hill serve up to 46 months on the October civil rights violations conviction, but Ross handed down the lighter sentence, she said, in part because of letters of support she received on behalf of Hill and because there was little legal precedent to guide her decision.