Landscaper recounts treatment in restraining chair at Clayton County jail

Landscaper Glenn Howell says his nightmare in the Clayton County jail began with a simple dispute with a client.

It was late April, and he was seeking payment for work he had done at the Butts County home of a Clayton County Sheriff’s deputy when the officer’s boss, Sheriff Victor Hill, got involved, he said.

Soon after, Howell said a warrant was issued for his arrest and when he turned himself in, he was handcuffed and strapped in a restraint chair for several hours in the Clayton County Jail. He said Hill stood over him while he was in the chair and repeatedly berated him.

“It’s totally life changing” Howell said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. “In the beginning I didn’t understand what was going on. Now I understand what’s going on and what [Hill] did as punishment of me for just telling him how I felt.”

Howell is one of five men named in a federal indictment handed down by a grand jury earlier this year that accuses the embattled sheriff of violating the civil rights of Clayton County jail detainees by strapping them into restraining chairs as punishment.

Hill has denied each of the allegations against him and has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His attorneys asked a federal judge in November to dismiss the case, arguing that the sheriff should have been warned that putting detainees in restraint chairs could be considered excessive force.

Gov. Brian Kemp in June suspended Hill after a three-member panel determined the sheriff could not perform his duties while under indictment. The Fulton County Superior Court denied last week an appeal Hill filed back in October to lift Kemp’s suspension.

Hill and his attorneys did not respond to repeated requests from the AJC to comment about Howell’s description of his detainment.

Combined ShapeCaption
JACKSON, GA 12-16-2021 The hands of Glenn Howell, a landscaper who was confined to a restraining chair at the direction of Victor Hill in the Clayton County Jail. Hill is under indictment on federal charges of violating the civil rights of jail detainees. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne

JACKSON, GA 12-16-2021 The hands of Glenn Howell, a landscaper who was confined to a restraining chair at the direction of Victor Hill in the Clayton County Jail. Hill is under indictment on federal charges of violating the civil rights of jail detainees. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne

Combined ShapeCaption
JACKSON, GA 12-16-2021 The hands of Glenn Howell, a landscaper who was confined to a restraining chair at the direction of Victor Hill in the Clayton County Jail. Hill is under indictment on federal charges of violating the civil rights of jail detainees. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne

Credit: Tyson Horne

The federal case has been joined by several individual lawsuits filed against the sheriff, including some in which restraint chairs were involved and one in which The Southern Center for Human Rights and the ACLU of Georgia are suing Hill over the alleged failure of the sheriff to house detainees adequately to avoid contracting COVID-19.

Speaking at his father’s restaurant in Jackson, Howell, 39, told the AJC that Hill intervened in a $2,800 business dispute he was having with a Clayton deputy who lives in Butts County. Neither federal authorities nor the Clayton Sheriff’s Office identified the deputy.

After taking photos of the work he had done at the deputy’s home in case he would need to put a lien on the property to get his payment, Howell got a call from Hill on April 23 in which the sheriff allegedly told him to stop harassing his employee, he said.

“He said, ‘This is Victor Hill, the sheriff of Clayton County,’ and I kind of giggled, and he said, ‘What’s so funny?’ and I said, ‘Are you serious, who is this again?’” Howell said.

Howell said Hill told him that, “I’m going to give you one opportunity to leave my deputy alone.”

The conversation soon became heated, Howell said, with both men allegedly cursing each other.

“We were going at it,” he said. “And I hung up the phone.”

Howell said he texted Hill after the call and the sheriff, who bills himself as “The Crime Fighter,” warned him not to text again or a warrant for his arrest would be issued.

The warrant was issued and Hill sent Clayton County fugitive squad teams to hunt Howell down for two days, but were unable to find him, Howell said.

Similar actions alleged

When Howell turned himself in on April 27, he said he was placed in a holding cell at the jail until Hill arrived and then was placed in a restraint chair. He told the AJC that he was strapped in for hours and said deputies told him to urinate on himself when he requested time to use the restroom.

“Two or three minutes into it I started asking for a nurse, and asking ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ and ‘I need some help,’” he said.

He said Hill stood over him for a time while he was restrained and said, “‘I told you that you need to handle this this way.’” The sheriff said he warned Howell about harassing his deputy, he said.

Howell said he did not make any remarks to the sheriff. “I said, ‘Yes sir, yes sir.’”

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In one lawsuit filed in October, Timothy O’Neil alleged that he urinated on himself after being confined to a restraint chair on Hill’s orders. Hill was angry that he had to shut down I-75 in October 2019 because of a police standoff with O’Neil.

In one lawsuit filed in October, Timothy O’Neil alleged that he urinated on himself after being confined to a restraint chair on Hill’s orders. Hill was angry that he had to shut down I-75 in October 2019 because of a police standoff with O’Neil.

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In one lawsuit filed in October, Timothy O’Neil alleged that he urinated on himself after being confined to a restraint chair on Hill’s orders. Hill was angry that he had to shut down I-75 in October 2019 because of a police standoff with O’Neil.

Others described similar interactions in run-ins with Hill.

In one lawsuit filed in October, Timothy O’Neil alleged that he urinated on himself after being confined to a restraint chair on Hill’s orders. Hill was angry that he had to shut down I-75 in October 2019 because of a police standoff with O’Neil.

“Do you know who I am? I had to shut down 75 for you,” Hill allegedly said to O’Neil as the detainee waited in the jail’s mental health unit. “Take him down and strap him to the chair.”

Restraint chairs resemble a cross between a wheelchair and a padded incline bench press, with straps to confine the arms and feet. A strap also comes over the shoulders and fastens to the seat between the legs similar to that found in a baby’s car seat or on an amusement park ride.

The devices are controversial nationally, with critics calling them “the devil’s chair” because they say instead of using them to secure inmates who could hurt themselves, jailers use them to torture.

They have been linked to deaths in at least three states, including the 2015 death of Matthew Ajibade in the Chatham County Jail. Ajibade, a student at Savannah College of Art and Design, was detained after a domestic dispute with his girlfriend. He was found dead in a restraint chair, in which video showed he had been Tased multiple times, according to news reports.

Howell told the AJC that deputies tightened the straps around his legs and the handcuffs on his hands later that night, leading him to meltdown.

“I started asking for a medic,” he said. “I felt like I’m having a heart attack.”

Howell said he suffered two disc dislocations in his shoulder area and nerve damage in his hands as a result of being in the chair.

He also said that his ordeal at the jail has impacted him in ways he never imagined.

“It’s made me scared,” he said.