Victor Hill surrenders clothes, guns in shooting

Staff writer Bill Torpy contributed to this story.

WHO IS VICTOR HILL?

Police say Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill was involved in a shooting in Gwinnett County over the weekend that left a 43-year-old woman in critical condition. The case is under investigation. The shooting victim has been identified as Gwenevere McCord, a real estate agent.

Here are some things you might not know about Hill:

» He’s a native of Charleston. S.C. and a self-described “Geechee” – a nod to his Gullah Geechee roots.

» He started his career in law enforcement at the age of 18 when he joined the Charleston Police Force as a cadet. He became a certified police officer at 21.

» He continued his police career, joining the Clayton County Police department, where he rose through the ranks as a detective in the homicide/robbery division. He later became the first black person in the department to serve as a hostage negotiator, according to his website.

» 2003-04: State House of Representatives.

» 2004: Elected first black sheriff in Clayton history. He marked his first day by firing two dozen sheriff’s deputies who were later reinstated. As sheriff, he made inmates face the wall whenever his visited the jail. He once used a county-owned tank against drug dealers. He lost his bid for re-election to Kim Kimbrough.

» He has a penchant for Batman and envisions himself as a street crimefighter and used the theme in his re-election bid for sheriff.

» 2012: He reclaimed the Sheriff’s office, defeating Kimbrough and winning a second term, even as he faced three dozen racketeering and corruption charges. His re-election was due in large part to his popularity in the community, some observers say.

» August 2013: Acquitted of 27 felony charges that included of racketeering, theft by taking, violating his oath of office, making false statements and influencing a witness.

After Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill was involved in a shooting that critically injured a woman near Lawrenceville over the weekend, the Gwinnett County district attorney made the decision to let him go home while the investigation is underway.

“I asked the police department not to take him into custody at that point, to make sure we didn’t mess it up at the beginning,” District Attorney Danny Porter said. “He had already asserted the right to remain silent.”

Though Hill called 911 at 5:39 p.m. Sunday, his attorney told investigators that the sheriff was “too shaken to give a statement,” Porter said. The sheriff turned over his clothing and two guns, but still had not talked to investigators late Monday afternoon.

Gwinnett County Police Department Corporal Deon Washington did not know the nature of the relationship between Hill and the victim, 43-year-old Gwenevere McCord, but said that they were acquainted. McCord’s office was at the model home, and it appears that Hill had visited her there before, Porter said.

McCord, a real estate agent with Paran Realty, was shot in the abdomen. She was being treated at the Gwinnett Medical Center.

Saying it was part of an active investigation, police would not release Hill’s 911 call or another call by a witness who walked in to the model home at 2567 Britt Trail Drive just after the shooting occurred.

The neighborhood is full of large, brick houses that sell for more than $300,000. Sunday night, the model home was surrounded by police tape.

A white Nissan Altima remained in the driveway and a dark-colored Chevrolet Camaro was on the street, also behind tape. Porter said police were processing Hill’s car and clothes, and that officers removed a gun that the sheriff had in an ankle holster, in addition to the handgun that was fired.

“It’s pretty clear it didn’t just discharge in a holster,” Porter said. “It’s pretty clear he had a gun out.”

In Hill’s 911 call, he said there had been an accidental shooting while he was practicing “police tactics,” Porter said. Porter said Hill could face charges related to reckless conduct. If McCord does not survive her injuries, he said, Hill could face felony involuntary manslaughter charges.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Why did he have a gun out on Sunday afternoon in a model home where the public can come in?’” Porter said.

McCord’s co-workers at Paran Realty said they were shocked by the incident. Bonnie Burleigh called her “a wonderful person and a good Christian woman.”

“She’s a great person, that’s all I can tell you,” Venus Waters, another coworker, said. “I’m really, really shook up.”

Deishay Smallwood, who moved into a house two doors down from the model home last month, said the incident raised his eyebrows.

“I would think if you’re seasoned, you should be cognizant of the dangers of that weapon,” said Smallwood, a corrections officer who is retiring soon.

The colorful and controversial Hill has made a name for himself in Clayton for his get-tough stance on crime. He envisions himself as a street crime fighter who runs a tight jail. He once had inmates face the wall when he was in their presence, and has used a tank to go after drug dealers.

Hill is in his second term as sheriff, having led a low-key existence since being acquitted of dozens of felony charges in 2013. Although many people in the community are stunned by the shooting, they are reserving judgment and declining to comment until more details emerge.

This isn't Hill's first brush with the law. He drew national attention when he ran for sheriff a second time while facing charges ranging from racketeering to making false statements. He was acquitted of all charges in August 2013.

“Victor Hill is the comeback kid who has gone up against the system and won,” said community activist and former Atlanta City Councilman Derrick Boazman.

But he said the shooting was “much bigger” than any of Hill’s previous issues.

“There has to be, in the coming days, some explanation of what happened here,” Boazman said.

The Clayton County Sheriff’s Department will be responsible for an administrative investigation. No one returned repeated calls seeking information about that investigation. WSB-TV reported that Hill did not show up for work Monday.

On Sunday, there was confusion about whether Hill, as sheriff, could be arrested. Porter said under Georgia law, a warrant has to be issued by a Superior Court judge if an officer is charged with a crime in the line of duty. He said no judge was available Sunday night.

After researching Monday, Porter said Hill could be charged, as his presence in Gwinnett “appears to be a completely personal errand.”

Former DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan said, “My understanding is he’s no different from me or you when he’s outside his jurisdiction and not within the course of his law enforcement responsibility. That statute was originally made so that a civilian couldn’t just go get a warrant on a sheriff just because he was mad at him.”

Morgan said he was baffled that Hill was able to leave the scene.

“How do you walk away from a shooting without saying anything?” he asked. “A lot of us in former law enforcement are scratching our heads. I don’t think you and I could have walked away from something like that.”

Porter said it is common for arrests to happen after an investigation is complete.

Hill’s position and reputation, Porter said, will not affect his process.

“Sometimes it’s better off to get it right than to get it fast,” he said. “Everybody knows who he is and nobody really cares.”

In Other News