Two months ago, Clayton County lawman Victor Hill accidentally shot his friend, real-estate agent Gwenevere McCord, inside a model home. Now a grand jury will decide charges in the case, a local prosecutor announced Thursday.
Hill, 50, was charged with misdemeanor reckless conduct in the May 3 shooting in Lawrenceville. At the time, investigators claimed Hill was dodging authorities and refused to make a statement. McCord, who was shot in the stomach and severely injured, later told cops that the sheriff was practicing “police tactics.”
But the jam hasn’t kept Hill—who calls himself the “Crime Fighter” and flashes the bat signal in campaign ads—from bankrolling his superhero fantasy on the taxpayer’s dime. In recent weeks, he’s traveled to Alabama and Wisconsin for tai chi workshops.
An Atlanta TV station tailed Hill when he drove 200 miles to Athens, Alabama in his county-issued Camaro this month. The four-day class cost $1,000 but was among his cheaper expenses—which also include jaunts to a Mississippi resort and casino and $2,000 worth of commemorative coins with Hill’s moniker and a Batman logo, 11Alive reported.
Steffan de Graffenried, owner of WuDang Martial Arts, said Hill contacted him about the workshop because he wanted to see if tai chi, or taiji, would benefit his deputies. The Chinese martial arts and exercise course was taught by world-touring Sifu Adam Mizner.
“Victor felt taiji would be a better fit for his officers given the situation around the country with police-involved violence,” de Graffenried told The Daily Beast. “He wanted a more gentle way to deal with people that’s just as effective.”
De Graffenried said Hill was the only law enforcement officer among the taiji enthusiasts at the workshop. “We did love having Victor here,” the martial-arts master added. “He is a super guy. I can see why he’s so well-liked in Clayton County.”
“He was very excited about everything,” de Graffenried said. “Every time I worked with him on a particular drill, he was like, ‘Wow, this is so cool. I never thought this could really happen.’”
After the workshop ended, Hill handed out sheriff’s badges with a Batman emblem on the back, de Graffenried said.
The sheriff enjoyed the martial arts session so much, he signed up for Sifu Mizner’s next four-day stop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to relearn the techniques. A July 19 Facebook photo shows him posing with the class at Everyday T'ai Chi Ch'uan.
It’s unclear how much the Milwaukee trip cost and whether the county footed the bill.
Still, government watchdogs weren’t amused by the excursions. Common Cause Georgia’s Ryan Splitlog said the Alabama workshop was only one of the sheriff’s dubious expenses and perks, which include three county-issued vehicles: a black Chevy Camaro, Tahoe and Suburban.
“Victor Hill has had a laundry list of questionable activity,” Splitlog told The Daily Beast. “With the freak shooting and all this wasteful spending, it makes you question whether he should be Clayton County sheriff.”
De Graffenried, however, said his workshop is a public benefit.
“The more money they can spend toward this kind of thing is going to be more helpful for everybody involved,” he said. “Not only the citizens, who won’t be getting beat up by policemen, but the policemen, who will be calmer more pleasant people to be around.”
“We all want that, don’t we?” de Graffenried added.
For his part, Hill appears to be playing it cool after the shooting, which cast the national spotlight on his department.
McCord, who lost her spleen, one kidney and part of her large intestine, posed for a photo at Hill’s office. He posted the image on his Facebook page and wrote, “Gwenevere Mccord, 20 year Clayton County resident, realtor, and supporter of the Sheriff stopped by to say hi to the ‘Crime fighter’ today!”
Hill, who has a three-foot-high Batman statue in his office, has been a local celebrity since taking office in 2005.
He has survived a 32-count racketeering indictment in 2012 for his alleged use of county-issued credit cards, as well as a $7-million settlement—paid for by taxpayers—for firing 27 deputies on his first day. (He famously installed snipers on the county jail roof in case the canned cops sought revenge.)
The Bruce Wayne acolyte once told Atlanta Magazine, “My favorite thing as a kid was to play cops and robbers …. What we play as kids, ultimately, we end up playing on the stage of life for real.”
Hill did not return messages left at his office. His attorney, Mike Puglise, deferred all questions to the district attorney.
“It would be improper for us to make a comment at this time out of respect for the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s office investigation,” Puglise said in an e-mail.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said in a statement Thursday that presenting Hill’s case to a grand jury is “the best course of action.”
Under state law, officers charged with a crime while performing official duties are entitled to have their cases presented to a grand jury.
It’s unclear whether Hill, who drove a county-owned vehicle to the model home, was actually on duty, but Porter told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he was playing it safe.