Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill had the wife of a political rival arrested after she said she penned emails to the department supporting her husband’s campaign.
Wednesday evening’s arrest of Gerrian Hawes, which was streamed live on Facebook by her husband, has some questioning whether the arrest was an abuse of Hill’s power as sheriff.
“This sounds like an effort to intimidate a potential political opponent, which is in my mind, not an appropriate use of law enforcement powers,” said Harvey Newman, professor emeritus at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. “We want people to feel able to speak truth to power. But this appears to be an effort to, if not silence that, to at least intimidate it.”
A spokesman for Hill did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.
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Robert Hawes, Gerrian’s husband, said the troubles began after the former sheriff’s deputy posted on Facebook his desire to seek Hill’s job on Aug. 10.
He alleges Hill then sent an email to Clayton Sheriff’s Office staffers that disparaged Hawes’ sons, accusing them of stealing their father’s department-issued gun in 2014 and selling it at a pawn shop. Hawes said the accusation is untrue.
After Hill emailed the staff, Gerrian Hawes replied to the email, writing: “Where there is love, fear cannot exist,” her husband said.
“All this comes after I made the announcement I was running for sheriff,” he said. “She responded because she thinks he is trying to place fear into us.”
Hill and Gerrian Hawes continued to email each other until the sheriff threatened to arrest her, Robert Hawes said.
In a Facebook livestream of her arrest, Gerrian Hawes can be heard telling viewers that she was being taken into custody after she and Hill got into the back and forth over her husband’s plans to seek Hill’s job in 2020. The next thing she knew, deputies were at her door with an arrest warrant.
“Something is wrong with Victor Hill,” she is heard saying in the video as deputies escort her from her home to a waiting squad car.
“Let’s go viral,” she tells the audience — which numbered around 55,000 by noon Thursday — as her husband chimed in with commentary of the arrest. She has been charged with harassing communications.
Bond for Hawes was set at $1,500 early Thursday when she appeared in Clayton Magistrate Court. She was expected to make bond and be released late Thursday.
The dust-up is the latest in a turbulent history for Hill, who is very popular among many Clayton County residents, but is also feared by others who say he uses his office to settle scores with rivals or anyone who gets on his bad side.
Hill has been the leader of the Clayton Sheriff’s Office since 2013, his second go-round in the top job after running the department from 2005-2008. When the seat was up for re-election in 2016, he received 63 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.
Over the years, however, detractors have described his behavior as everything from reckless to criminal.
When he first took office in 2005, he immediately fired 27 employees, placing snipers on the sheriff’s department roof as they were escorted out. In 2012, he was accused of several counts of racketeering, theft by taking and making false statements, though he would later be acquitted of all charges.
In 2015, he accidentally shot a female friend while demonstrating “police tactics” during a date. And last year, his law enforcement certification was put on probation for two years by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.
This year, he has been linked to Mitzi Bickers, a Clayton Sheriff’s chaplain who was indicted in April in connection to the bribery scandal at Atlanta City Hall. Charges against her include witness tampering, wire fraud and money laundering.
Rodney Williams, a former Clayton Sheriff’s Office chaplain, said Hill’s response to Gerrian Hawes’ emails is part of a pattern of intimidation.
Williams turned himself in to police in February after he learned Hill had taken a warrant out for his arrest because of an email Williams sent to his former colleagues after he was fired. In the electronic message, he called the sheriff “toxic” and said he had an “evil agenda.”
Soon afterward, he faced charges of computer trespassing of his own.
“I saw it coming, that’s just how he operates,” said Williams, who was at the courthouse Thursday to support Gerrian Hawes. “You give him a little bit of bait, the snake will stick his head out because he does not have any self-control. That’s just what he does.”