A controversial Georgia sheriff who was charged for accidentally shooting a friend—years after he was acquitted on corruption charges—is in legal trouble once again after being accused of strapping inmates in a restraint chair for hours as punishment.
A newly unsealed federal indictment alleges Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill violated the civil rights of four detainees by forcing them to be strapped in the chair for hours, causing “physical pain and resulting in bodily injury.” On at least one occasion, an inmate was barred from using the bathroom and forced to urinate on the restraint chair, according to the indictment, which was filed on April 19 but unsealed Monday night.
“I’m a sit your ass in that chair for 16 hours straight. Do you understand me?” Hill allegedly told two of the inmates last April as they were strapped to restraint chairs, according to the indictment. “I need to hear from both of y’all that y’all not gonna show y’all’s ass in my county no more.”
Hill, who describes himself on social media as “the crime fighter,” has denied the allegations. In a Tuesday statement, he called it a “political[ly] motivated federal legal case” and said he and his “legal team are the only ones authorized to speak on the details of this matter, and they are confident about the facts of this case.”
“Meanwhile, as we go through this process, I will continue to focus on the mission of fighting crime in Clayton County for continued success,” Hill said.
Drew Findling, one of Hill’s lawyers, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that while they have been aware of a federal investigation into the sheriff for at least six months, “we are shocked that this was indicted.”
“Sheriff Victor Hill is a beloved sheriff in his county. He is an anti-crime person. He wins overwhelming elections and the fact that these four innocuous allegations are the causation of a criminal case sends mixed messages from the Department of Justice,” Findling said. “There are no physical injuries involved. Other cases that receive this type of indictment involve brutal injuries and crimes—there is nothing like that here.”
Findling added that that restraint chairs are “perfectly legal” and are “present in county and state facilities across the United States.” While he acknowledges they are times abusively used, Findling says that is not the case in Clayton County, and “we are just really shocked that the United States Department of Justice is kind of stepping into this community and taking this shot at this overwhelming supportive sheriff.”
“Badges and guns don’t come with the authority to ignore the Constitution. They come with the responsibility to protect it from anyone who would violate it, especially another public servant,” FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Christopher Macrae said in a Tuesday statement. “Sheriff Hill is alleged to have abused his privileges and abandoned his responsibilities and the FBI is committed to restoring trust in law enforcement by holding him accountable.”
This legal battle marks the latest in a series of controversies involving Hill, who took office as Clayton County’s first Black sheriff in 2005. On his first day on the job, Hill infamously fired 27 deputies and had snipers stand guard on the roof as they were escorted out of the department. (A judge later ordered Hill to rehire them.) During his first stint as sheriff, Hill used a county-owned tank during drug raids.
Hill failed to win re-election in 2008, but returned to office in 2012—while still facing more than two dozen criminal charges in a corruption case. After a four-day trial in 2013, Hill was acquitted of all 27 charges over whether he’d used his position as sheriff for personal gain. During the trial, prosecutors said Hill had a sheriff’s office employee come to his house and write his autobiography while on the clock.
Two years later, Hill was indicted on a reckless conduct charge after accidentally shooting his friend, Gwenevere McCord, while they were practicing police tactics inside an empty model home. In 2016, Hill pleaded no contest to the charge and was ordered to serve 12 months on probation and pay a $1,000 fine. McCord, who recovered from her injuries, told authorities she didn’t want Hill to be prosecuted for an accident that happened while she was learning self-defense.
Last year, the Southern Center for Human Rights and the ACLU sued Hill and several of his subordinates for allegedly failing to protect Clayton County inmates from the coronavirus pandemic by overcrowding cells and not providing PPE or sanitation supplies. The suit is still pending.
Now, prosecutors allege the sheriff misused his own restraint policy to punish inmates.
The indictment states Hill approved a policy that allowed prisoners with “violent or uncontrollable behavior” that could result in “self-injury, injury to others or property damage” to be restrained in a chair. The policy, however, claimed the chair would “never be authorized as a form of punishment.”
One inmate, identified as J.A., said he was incarcerated at Clayton County jail in February 2020 after being accused of assaulting two women during a dispute at a local grocery store. During booking, Hill allegedly contacted J.A., asking him what he had been doing in Clayton County on the day of the assault.
“It’s a democracy, sir. It’s the United States,” J.A. replied, according to the indictment. “No it’s not. Not in my county,” Hill allegedly replied.
When J.A., who was handcuffed, asked twice whether he was entitled to a fair and speedy trial, Hill allegedly insulted him, telling him once: “You entitled to sit in this chair, and you’re entitled to get the hell out of my county and don’t come back. That’s what you’re entitled to. You sound like a damn jackass. Don’t you even put your hand on a woman like that again...Now, sit there and see if you can get some damn sense in your head.”
The indictment states that J.A. was then “strapped into a restraint chair and left for hours” on Hill’s order.
About two months later, a 17-year-old identified as C.H. was arrested after allegedly vandalizing his family’s house during an argument with his mom. After arresting C.H., a deputy allegedly texted Hill a photograph of the teen inside the squad car.
During the text exchange, Hill asked how old C.H. was and then told the deputy to put him in the chair when he learned his age. The indictment states C.H. was strapped in the restraint chair for several hours on Hill’s orders.
Days later, on April 27, an individual referred to as J.H. was arrested for a domestic disturbance and allegedly “fell out of a chair after apparently pretending to pass out” at the police station. He was taken to a hospital, where he refused treatment and left. Officers re-arrested him outside his grandmother’s house the next day. While he initially refused to cooperate with the officers, the indictment states he was not combative when he arrived at the jail—but was still ordered to be strapped to the chair for several hours.
“During his time in the restraint chair, J.H was not allowed to go to the restroom and urinated on the restraint chair,” the indictment states, noting that he was restrained in a chair next to C.H.
Hill allegedly berated both men, telling them: “I think both of y’all are just assholes that need a man to kick y’all in the ass and y’all be okay. I don’t think y’all are bad people.”
The indictment states a fourth inmate, who is identified as G.H, was harassed by Hill after he got into a payment dispute about some landscaping work he did for a Butts County sheriff’s deputy. Hill allegedly called G.H. to ask him why he was “harassing his deputy,” and G.H. replied that the sheriff should tell his deputy to pay his bill, adding, “You can go fuck yourself.”
“Unsure whether the caller had actually been the Clayton County Sheriff, G.H. used FaceTime to call back several times until Defendant Hill answered and removed a mask he was wearing,” the indictment states. “After the FaceTime calls, Defendant Hill texted G.H., warning him not to call or text anyone.”
The next day, Hill instructed a deputy to “swear out an arrest warrant against G.H. for harassing communications, and eventually sent out a “fugitive squad armed with handguns and AR-15 rifles to Butts County in an attempt to arrest G.H. on the misdemeanor arrest warrant.”
The indictment states G.H. ultimately turned himself in—and was strapped into the restraint chair for several hours after a confrontation with Hill.
The Clayton County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.