Lawyers seek overturn of Victor Hill conviction in appeals appearance

Attorneys for former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill told the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday that the ex-lawman was unjustly convicted in 2022 of violating the civil rights of jail detainees, and they want a new trial.

Hill is currently barred from being a law enforcement officer.

In oral arguments before a three-judge panel, attorney Lynsey Barron said Hill was not given prior warning that his use of a restraint chair could be considered excessive force, a defense Hill’s lawyers also used during the trial.

Hill was convicted of strapping six inmates to the chair, sometimes for hours on end, as a form of punishment. The devices can only lawfully be used in instances when an inmate poses a risk of harm to themselves or others.

Barron also said federal U.S. District Court Judge Eleanor Ross, who oversaw the trial, erred in singling out a juror who disagreed with his fellow jurors on several of the charges against Hill by bringing him into the courtroom for questioning. The move was coercive, forcing the juror to side with others on the jury, Barron argued.

“The judge struggled with this case,” she said. “The jury struggled with this case.”

Hill was sentenced to 18 months in prison and was incarcerated starting in May 2023, at FCI Forrest City in Forrest City, Arkansas. He was released last month to community confinement in Georgia, with three years supervised release. Hill was not in the courtroom Tuesday.

The appeals court did not set a date for when it would hand down a decision, but it could take months.

Federal prosecutor Bret Hobson said Hill and Clayton County jail staff knew their use of the restraint chairs were punitive and that strapping the detainees in was excessive force. The detainees were not resisting their restraint nor had they acted violently toward others or appeared to be a harm to themselves, he said.

The only times the chairs could be used was under Hill’s own guidelines, Hobson told the court.

“It’s not that he is preventing some violence,” Hobson said. “There is none happening.”

Hobson also pushed back on claims the judge’s decision to speak with the juror in the courtroom had a coercive impact. He said the juror’s colleagues had concerns that he did not understand instructions, and were frustrated when he would cover his ears instead of listening during deliberations.

Ross brought him out to see if he was following the law and to ask if there was anything he didn’t understand, Hobson said. After the juror affirmed he was capable of carrying out his duties, he was returned to the jury room, Hobson said.

The judges had questions for both sides.

Judge Robin Rosenbaum questioned how Hill gets around accusations of excessive force when he ordered the restraint chairs used in a way that violated his own rules.

“It is outlined in the policy that your client established, right?” she asked Barron.

Judge Stanley Marcus said the juror issue struck him as the most important. He told Hobson the idea that the “confluence” of bringing the juror out twice when the jury appeared to be struggling on some of the charges gave the argument of coercion a “different patina.”