Hill wins another term as Clayton County sheriff

Former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill has reclaimed the office he lost four years ago despite 37 pending felony charges that accuse him of using his government office and his 2008 campaign to enrich himself.

With only one precinct uncounted, Hill was ahead. But the charges he's facing make it uncertain whether he will take office in January because the governor could suspend him until he goes to trial.

"Don't be sorry for me. Be sorry for Clayton County," Democratic incumbent Kem Kimbrough said. "I'll be fine but there are a whole lot of people's lives that will be affected by this and maybe they have to see this for themselves. It's something I've heard a million times; only in Clayton County. It is what it is."

Hill, in an emailed statement, thanked God and the voters for letting him "serve once again."

"As promised, I want to advise those who prey on others by breaking into homes, robbing businesses and drug trafficking to stop or leave Clayton while you still can. Your presence is not wanted and your lawlessness will not be tolerated," Hill said.

This year's contest was a rerun of the runoff for Clayton County sheriff of four years ago, the buttoned-down Kimbrough vs. the controversial Hill. Only this campaign was extraordinarily nasty even before a field of eight candidates in the July 31 primary was reduced to the two.

Hill insisted that Kimbrough, who holds a law degree from Emory University, was behind the 37-count indictment returned against Hill in January. Hill said Kimbrough assigned deputies to follow him and to go through his trash and then handed over documents to a special prosecutor just to keep Hill from returning to office.

In campaigning, Kimbrough struggled to get across the message to voters that, as sheriff, he had no role pushing for an indictment that came out of the findings of a special grand jury overseen by a special prosecutor, the district attorney for Walton and Newton Counties.

Special prosecutor Layla Zon obtained an indictment of Hill on charges of racketeering, theft by taking, making false statements, influencing a witness and violating his oath of office, all allegedly while he was sheriff. He is charged with taking tens of thousands of dollars from his 2008 re-election campaign and from the county, using his government car and county credit card for vacations with a female employee of the office.

"People have forgiven him for his missteps and he's said, for this second time around, he's become more mature and he's learned from his mistakes, but he still has the indictments against him," said Pat Pullar, chief executive of Atlanta-based political consulting and training firm Talking Points 4 U.

"He'll have to overcome that as well," said Pullar, who is also vice chairman of the Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration.

Since there was no Republican running, this run-off decided the sheriff's race.

In 2008 when Kimbrough and Hill faced each other Kimbrough bested Hill, who was the incumbent.

Hill, a former homicide detective and state legislator, was among those elected in 2004 after Clayton voters dismissed virtually all incumbents.

Hill's four years were controversial and some of his decisions drew national media attention.

On his first day in office, Hill fired 27 deputies and had them escorted from the building with snipers positioned on the roof. A federal judge forced him to rehire them.

Hill used a tank in drug raids. He angered local police agencies as he tried to expand the traditional role of Clayton County's sheriff beyond running the jail, protecting the courthouse and serving warrants to also putting in place specialized task forces to address drugs and burglaries.

As in the 2004 campaign, Hill continued to call himself a "crime fighter," playing off the theme of the Batman television show.

But his biggest problem as he prepares to take office is the criminal case against him.

If he has not gone to trial by the time he is to take office in January, the governor could suspend him and appoint a temporary sheriff until the felony case is resolved. There is no trial date.

Former Clayton Sheriff Victor Hill is facing 37 criminal counts related to his time in office. Assuming his case is not resolved by the time he takes office in January, here's what could happen.

The governor could suspend Hill based on the criminal charges he faces.

The governor would appoint a temporary sheriff.

If Hill is not convicted he could return to office.

If Hill is convicted, he would disqualify himself for the office of sheriff.

If Hill cannot serve, voters would get to choose a new sheriff.