Kemp appoints review panel of Clayton Sheriff Hill indictment

Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday appointed a panel to review indictment of Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill .

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday appointed a panel to review indictment of Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill .

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

A three-person panel will investigate whether Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill should be suspended from his job as he faces federal charges of violating the civil rights of jail detainees.

Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday tapped state Attorney General Chris Carr, Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams and Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds to review the charges and determine whether each “affects the administration of the duties by Sheriff Hill such that the rights and interests of the public are adversely affected.”

The panel will report its findings to Kemp within 14 days.

Hill, who calls himself “The Crime Fighter,” was indicted on federal charges April 19 for allegedly violating the civil rights of jail detainees. He is accused of depriving four men of their liberty in incidents that occurred over several months in 2020 by strapping them to restraint chairs as a form of punishment.

The controversial leader has denied the charges and his attorney, Drew Findling, said Wednesday that the review is statutory and not a cause for concern. He said he expected Kemp and the panel will see Hill as a compatriot in upholding the law.

“The attorney general and two elected sheriffs will recognize that the indictment is an overreach by the federal government interfering with a duly elected sheriff devoted to maintaining security at the Clayton County Jail,” Findling said. “To be clear, this review commission will see that a restraint chair, which is commonly used at jails throughout the United States, was used with all health and safety precautions complied with.”

Hill has faced multiple legal troubles since becoming sheriff almost two decades ago. They include several counts of racketeering, theft by taking and making false statements in 2012 and accidentally shooting a friend while demonstrating “police tactics” during a date in 2015.

He also has made arrests that courted controversy, including taking into custody the wife of a rival for office in 2018.

He has been acquitted of the charges against him and Clayton voters overwhelming support him, reelecting him in 2020.

Georgia State University Law Professor Jessica Cino said federal indictments are often a harder climb to face than state and local charges.

“Even if there if there is some air of impropriety, it very, very rare to see state and local charges really do anything,” she said. “You have to really draw attention on a federal level in order to really unmask the corruption and address it because local politics are what they are.”

The federal charges against Hill include restraining in a chair for hours a Clayton youth who had just turned 17. He had been arrested for allegedly vandalizing his home during an argument with his mother.

In a separate incident, Hill is accused of restraining a Butts County landscaper after sending a “fugitive squad with handguns and AR-15 rifles” to arrest him for allegedly making harassing phone calls to Hill. The sheriff had stepped into a dispute between the landscaper and a Clayton County deputy who hired him.

The governor’s panel was not unexpected. By law, the state had 14 days after receipt of the indictment to establish the review panel. If it determines Hill should be suspended, he will not be able to execute his role as sheriff until his criminal case is decided.

Wednesday’s panel announcement was the latest surrounding sheriff suspensions. In 2017, former Gov. Nathan Deal suspended a Worth County sheriff after he was indicted on charges of sexual battery, false imprisonment and violation of his oath of office. The indictment stemmed from a drug search of 400-plus students at a county high school that some called invasive.

In 2017, Deal also suspended former metro Atlanta sheriffs in DeKalb and Walton counties. DeKalb Sheriff Jeffrey Mann was suspended after he was accused of exposing himself in Piedmont Park and Chapman got into trouble after he was accused of not reporting an arrest at a Florida bar a year earlier.