Hill renews CSI fight

By Justin Boron

Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill has reinvigorated a push to restore his office of the crime scene investigation unit he says was illegally taken from him before he took office.

He told the commissioners Tuesday night they didn't have the right to take employees and resources of his office, a contention that stems from a lawsuit filed in March. Hill cited a federal judge's order that said the county commission didn't have direct authority over sheriff employees. But it also said Hill was not a state official.

County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said the same night, Hill was bringing up a "dead issue."

Hill's renewed effort comes on the heels of progress, attorneys say resulted from mediation talks related to a federal discrimination suit against the sheriff. The suit was spurred by Hill's dismissal of 27 employees his first day in office.

Hill said the March suit is part of a campaign in which he promises he will set straight the wrongs passed onto him since he won the sheriff election Nov. 8.

"All these issues need to be resolved," he said. "What was done was not right and we're not going to retreat from it."

Following a November lawsuit in which a judge ruled against Hill, the Board of Commissioners transferred an 11-member crime scene investigative unit from the Sheriff's Office to county police supervision.

Beyond the crime scene investigative unit, Hill said he still has grievances with the county commission over the budget insufficiencies and the narcotics unit that was placed under police supervision in January.

Hill also tried to set straight what he says was false information given by Bell, who had not taken office when the unit was transferred.

A news release from Hill's office says, "Eldrin Bell told a television reporter that 11 crime scene deputies were not moved by the commissioners to the police department. Bell stated the 11 deputies resigned from the Sheriff's Office."

"If Eldrin Bell was Pinocchio, the cost of plastic surgery would exceed any legal fees that are occurring as a result of the Clayton County Commission consistently acting beyond the scope of their authority with the Sheriff's Office," Hill said in the release.

A recording of a Fox 5 broadcast of the interview shows Bell saying, "Those people were employed by the police department, not transferred. Once they moved the unit, they no longer had a job. They applied for the jobs and were accepted by the police department."

Bell did not return phone calls for comment.

Hill said he was not just looking to pick another fight.

"I don't shake things up just to shake things up," Hill said. "I shake things up that are wrong."

Hill defeated long-time sheriff Stanley Tuggle in last year's Democratic Primary and Tuggle later signed a letter saying he did not object to the transfer of the unit. Hill contended that the transfer would not have occurred if Tuggle had won re-election. That charge was denied by county officials at the time.

Jack Hancock, the attorney representing the county commission in the mediation and the March suit, said for him, Hill's recent statements wouldn't affect the likelihood of a settlement.

Superior Court Judge Stephen Boswell is scheduled to hear arguments for dismissal of the crime scene investigation suit Aug. 25 but Hancock said the proceeding may be continued.

In his motion, Hancock argues that Hill doesn't have standing, that it his complaint is nothing more than "a non-judiciable political agreement," and that it is well established that the county commission may cut the sheriff's budget.

He also said there are several procedural problems that warrant the case's dismissal.