Feds convict and sentence Clayton County’s ‘CRIME FIGHTER’
A federal judge sentenced disgraced former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill to hard time on March 14. He’s set to serve up to 18 months in a federal penitentiary for crimes related to his tenure as sheriff—marking a precipitous fall for the once larger-than-life character who loomed large over Clayton County.
While in office, Hill was fond of styling himself after Batman, but he may find a quote from another fictional superhero, Spiderman, appropriate: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s the latest reminder that government officials—especially those in law enforcement—have extraordinary powers, and they need to be held to high standards.
Hill referred to himself as “THE CRIME FIGHTER” in all caps, hobnobbed with celebrities, and his name was even added to a squad car in the video game Grand Theft Auto. While elected to four terms as Clayton County’s top cop, he was long mired in controversy. In 2005, on his first day on the job as sheriff, he fired 27 employees, and placed snipers on the jail roof as they left their former workplace.
By 2012, he was “indicted on four counts of racketeering, 29 counts of theft by taking, two counts of making a false statement and one count each of violation of oath of a public officer and influencing a witness,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. However, the following year, jurors cleared him of all charges.
In 2015 and under strange circumstances, Hill shot a real estate agent in the stomach, and ultimately pleaded no contest to reckless conduct. While this is far from an exhaustive list of questionable events surrounding Hill, voters regularly re-elected the embattled sheriff. Two years ago, his luck finally ran out when federal authorities indicted Hill on civil rights abuses and Gov. Brian Kemp suspended him from his post.
Within the indictment, Hill was alleged to have berated some of those in his custody, told them that their rights were limited in his presentence, and exclaimed to one, “You’re entitled to get the hell out of my county and don’t come back.” But this was the least of his concerns. The U.S. Attorney’s office accused him “of ordering his employees to use excessive force against […] pretrial detainees,” reads a Justice Department press release.
In October 2022, Hill “was convicted by a 12-person jury on six of seven counts of federal civil rights violations for ordering his employees in 2019 and 2020 to use excessive force against six detainees at the Clayton County Jail,” the New York Times wrote. “The detainees testified that they had been kept on restraint chairs for hours, even though they posed no danger to deputies, and some urinated on themselves or were injured.”
Federal law permits law enforcement officers to use restraint chairs, but only as a means to protect inmates from hurting themselves or others, not as a form of punishment or as an interrogation tactic.
The Hill debacle should certainly make my readers recoil, but how can we prevent such crimes from happening again? The answer is elusive, but one step is the most obvious: voters need to elect people of good moral character. Politicians who have a history of questionable behavior and raise serious red flags probably shouldn’t be trusted to hold reins of power and authority.
As a former law enforcement officer’s son, I know that the overwhelming majority of cops are fine people and their jobs are hard enough without bad actors sullying their good name, but the Hill case demonstrates the need for robust police accountability.
Urging voters to only support individuals of integrity is probably not a recipe for success, given the throngs of corrupt candidates who have risen to power. To further protect Georgians from illegal policing practices, state lawmakers should consider instituting an extra layer of state oversight over local departments to ensure this never happens again. After all, someone must police the police and keep everyone accountable.
Despite Hill’s conviction, he has maintained his innocence, and his attorney in 2022 vowed to appeal the conviction. Whether or not he is successful, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hill try to eventually mount a political comeback of some form. It’s up to Clayton County voters whether or not they want a return of the Batman-styled “CRIME FIGHTER.”