Clayton agrees to pay $750,000 to ex-sheriff department officers

Clayton County has agreed to pay $750,000 to settle a nearly three-year-old federal lawsuit brought by three former veteran sheriff’s department officers who accused Sheriff Victor Hill of creating a hostile workplace and discriminating and retaliating against them.

In their lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Brian Crisp, Jeffrey Mitchell and Garland Watkins said Hill demoted them and forced them to work in jobs below their ranks. The alleged mistreatment occurred after Hill was re-elected to a second term in 2013. All three no longer work at the sheriff's department.

The lawsuit alleged they were harassed because they had previously sued Hill for wrongful termination when they were part of a group of two dozen department employees abruptly fired by Hill on his first day in his first term of office in January 2005. They also said they were punished for campaigning for Hill’s political opponents the three times he ran for sheriff.

All three men were transferred later to the county police department. The three returned to the sheriff’s office when Kim Kimbrough defeated Hill in 2008. The three men were demoted upon Hill’s 2013 return to office. Efforts to reach the three as well as Hill were unsuccessful.

The case was scheduled to be heard in federal court in Atlanta recently but a settlement was reached instead. County commissioners agreed to the amount of the settlement after closed a session during their Tuesday night meeting.

“It was unfortunate that we had to deal with this situation, especially with the county having to pay $750,000 to settle this lawsuit,” Commission Chairman Jeff Turner said. “(But) it resolves this issue and we can move on from this point.”

The 25-page complaint gives a glimpse into the manner in which Hill ran his operation shortly after returning to the sheriff’s office in 2013. Among the allegations:

• All three men were demoted. Watkins, who later ran against Hill as a write-in candidate in 2013, was stripped of his duties as chief deputy and assigned to supervise lower-ranking employees. Crisp was demoted from captain to lieutenant while Mitchell went from major to lieutenant.

•Watkins and Crisp were reassigned to the Crime Suppression Unit where they had to work 12-hour night shifts. The job involved sitting in their cars watching gas stations, convenience stores, apartment buildings and private residences. The pair was eventually stripped of all management duties. •The suit claimed Hill retaliated against Crisp for work he did during Kimbrough’s tenure. Kimbrough assigned Crisp to investigate corruption allegations involving Hill based on Hill’s actions during his first term. Crisp ultimately reported his findings to the District Attorney’s office which brought 37 charges against Hill. Hill was ultimately cleared of the charges.

The recent settlement is the latest financial burden incurred by the county to resolve legal matters involving Hill. The county had to paid about $7 million to the 27 deputies and employees involved in the Jan. 3, 2005 firings. were escorted from the building under armed guard and rooftop snipers.

Hill is awaiting trial for accidentally shooting a female friend last year at a Gwinnett model home. He has been charged with reckless conduct, a misdeamnor.

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