The sheriff of a suburban Atlanta county has been indicted on federal civil rights charges for allegedly ordering his employees to use excessive force against four pretrial detainees, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia.
An indictment unsealed Monday alleges Sheriff Victor Hill ordered staff at the Clayton County Jail to strap pretrial detainees into a restraint chair “for a period exceeding that justified by any legitimate nonpunitive government purpose” in four separate incidents in 2020, according to the release.
The indictment alleges the practice “caused physical pain and resulted in bodily injury” to the detainees. Restraint chairs are sometimes used in prisons and hospitals to control those who could injure themselves or others.
“While the vast majority of our law enforcement officers perform their duties bravely, professionally, and with honor, those few who abuse their power must be held accountable,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine in a Tuesday news release. “Our constitution prohibits law enforcement officers from using unreasonable force.”
Hill was arraigned on Tuesday, pleaded not guilty and was released on signature bond, according to his attorneys, Drew Findling and Marissa Goldberg.
Using a restraint chair is “commonplace (and) used in correctional facilities from coast to coast and border to border throughout the United States … based on the investigation we have conducted for over a half year and other due diligence we have not seen any indication of injuries,” Findling and Goldberg said, noting they were “pretty shocked” by the indictment.
“He was also given the right to have a service weapon because he’s the elected sheriff of a major metropolitan county, which is really unusual in federal felony cases that you’re able to possess a firearm, but the judge ruled that he was, he was able to,” the attorneys said.
In an email statement released on Tuesday, Hill said, “Today I will begin the process of fighting a political (sic) motivated federal legal 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 was first elected as Clayton County sheriff in 2004 and lost a reelection bid four years later. He won in 2012 to return to the position and most recently was reelected last year as an unopposed candidate.
Hill as sheriff has not been without controversy, aspiring to the image of a tough-on-crime administrator who activists and critics have felt has abused the powers. On his first day in office in 2005, he fired 27 deputies and had them escorted out of their building as snipers were positioned outside, according to CNN affiliate WSB. Courts intervened and the deputies were later reinstated.
In 2013, he was acquitted on more than two dozen charges alleging he had used the office for personal gain, according to WSB.
In 2015, Hill fired a pistol that struck and wounded a friend at her workplace in Gwinnett County, according to CNN affiliate WXIA. The victim told authorities the shooting was accidental and Hill continued his tenure as sheriff.
Last year, the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department was involved in an excessive use-of-force incident, which the department said was subject to an internal investigation requested by Hill. The deputy in question was fired shortly after.
CNN’s Natasha Chen contributed to this report.