ATLANTA — An Atlanta-area sheriff stands accused of punishing detainees by having them strapped into a restraint chair for hours even though they posed no threat and obeyed instructions. Now a jury must decide whether he violated the men’s civil rights.
A federal grand jury in April 2021 indicted Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill, saying he violated the civil rights of four people in his custody. Three more alleged victims were added in subsequent indictments. Prosecutors say placing the seven men in restraint chairs was unnecessary, was improperly used as punishment, and caused pain and bodily injury.
Jury selection is set to begin Wednesday and the trial is expected to last at least two weeks.
Hill calls himself “The Crime Fighter,” and uses Batman imagery on social media and in campaign ads. He has been a divisive figure — attracting both fans and critics — since he first became sheriff in 2005. This will be his second trial on criminal charges. The voters of Clayton County returned him to office in 2012 while he was under indictment, accused of using his office for personal gain — charges he ultimately beat.
Hill and his lawyers have said said his prosecution is baseless and politically motivated.
“We fervently maintain that throughout his tenure, Sheriff Hill has employed legal and accepted law enforcement techniques and has never exceeded his lawful authority,” defense attorneys Drew Findling and Marissa Goldberg said in a statement. “(W)ith the commencement of the trial of this case, the process will begin of restoring him back to his constitutionally elected position as Sheriff of Clayton County.”
Gov. Brian Kemp in June 2021 suspended Hill pending the resolution of the charges.
The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment. When Hill was first indicted, then-Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine said the sheriff’s alleged actions not only harmed the detainees but also eroded public trust in law enforcement.
Prosecutors say Hill approved a policy saying the restraint chair can be used for a violent or uncontrollable person to prevent injury or property damage if other techniques don’t work and that the chair “will never be authorized as a form of punishment.”