State lawmaker and county police detective Victor Hill defeated two-term sheriff Stanley Tuggle in the Democratic Primary Tuesday. With no Republican on the November ballot, Hill is all but assured of being the 20th sheriff.
With about 2,000 absentee and early voting ballots still being counted, Hill had 15,753 votes to 8,501 for Tuggle.
Clayton County police accident investigator Joe Mack Eckler garnered 1,664 votes and used car salesman Cliff Hall, who had no law enforcement experience, received 727 votes.
Hill's margin of victory in the 50 precincts counted was too large to be affected by the absentee and early voting ballots that were being counted by hand.
"I just want to say that I'm very grateful to God and the voters for helping me make this a victory," a jubilant Hill said.
Tuggle said, "The voters made their choice and I'll live with their choice."
Hill, 39, is a native of Charleston, S.C., he has lived in Clayton County for 12 years and currently lives in Riverdale. He has been a detective with the Clayton County Police Department for 12 years and has also served in the Georgia House of Representatives for the past two years. He was celebrating his victory at Peppers Grill and Bar in Riverdale.
Hill said he was going to take the county back from gangs and drug dealers.
"I'm going to do what sheriffs are supposed to do, I'm going to be at the forefront of that battle," said Hill, adding that he would also work with the county's police departments in that mission. "The clock is ticking for criminals in Clayton County."
Hill pointed out that he was hired by the Clayton County Police Department on July 20 and was elected the county's 20th sheriff on July 20.
"God is great," Hill said.
Tuggle, 54, lives in Jonesboro and has spent 31 years with the sheriff's department, eight of those years as sheriff. He came to the department fresh from his service in the U.S. Air Force and started out as a corrections officer. As the results rolled in Tuesday Tuggle was at his campaign headquarters.
Among Hill's plans for the department is the implementation of a "tough love" program for at risk youth to give them alternatives to crime.
Hill also said previously that he wants to start a program similar to the CompStat system that began in New York in which the locations and types of crimes in the county are constantly fed into a computer database. Then the information is used to direct units to trouble spots.
"You can't fight a war without a map," Hill said.
The sheriff's office has to work together with the county police department and the municipal police departments within the county to address crime, Hill said. He also wants to use non-violent county inmates in work crews similar to those operated using state prisoners that are limited to working only on state roads.
Hill has captured headlines this year for his fight with the county commission over an old law that would require a county employee to resign or take a leave of absence to run for office. Hill said the law has not been enforced in the past and questioned why it suddenly is being enforced. The U.S. Justice Department has asked for more questions to be answered, including how it was applied in the past, before it will pre-clear the measure. Because of the delay in pre-clearance, it has become a moot issue in this year's primary and both Hill and Eckler, along with other county employees, were still working while campaigning.
Eckler, 41, lives in Hampton and has been with the Clayton County Police Department for 15 years.
The sheriff's office currently employs 352 people and has an annual operating budget of about $25 million.