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Hill's firings render 27 anguished lives

By Justin Boron

Kim Fallins said she saw her father, Jim Fallins, cry for only the second time in her life after he was fired from his job at the Clayton County Sheriff's Office two days ago.

Through her own tears, she said his 38-year career with the Sheriff's Office would have ended peacefully in February, when he was scheduled to retire.

Instead, what may become his last day was spent in agony - a tumultuous morning in which he and several other employees dismissed by Sheriff Victor Hill left the Harold R. Banke Justice Center humiliated.

"The man worked his tail end off," Fallins said. "And they treat him like that ... it brought him to tears."

At a packed county commission meeting Tuesday night, former Lt. Garland Watkins said the group of 27 discharged employees were treated worse than the prisoners of the county jail.

"Herded into a jail cell," he said the group was stripped of all Clayton County property, then was escorted under armed guard into prisoner vans waiting outside.

"Once leaving the building that's the part that really hurt," Watkins said.

Once gone, he said they headed to the county government building where they pleaded with county leaders for their jobs back.

The spate of firings Monday, Hill's first day as sheriff, has driven the personal and financial lives of the 27 employees into a precarious state as many said they wonder what they would do if a judge ultimately decides their dismissal was legal.

Hope for the group came Tuesday morning in a court order that temporarily restores their employment.

Stephen E. Boswell, the chief judge of Clayton County Superior Court, issued a temporary restraining order, which reinstated the discharged employees and prevents Hill from making more dismissals.

The order only lists 23 names because only 23 personnel actions were filed, County Attorney Don Comer said.

Hill says he dismissed 27 in total.

Regardless of the number, the employees will continue to receive pay and benefits, Comer said.

But amid the uncertainty over the fate of their jobs lingers the panic that struck them two days ago.

Harlan S. Miller, the employees' attorney, reassured them though, telling reporters Hill had no case.

"It should be a very quick hearing," he said.

Miller also said he would pursue retribution for various rights violations that occurred as the group of employees was escorted out of the building.

The Superior Court case is hinged on whether the fired employees were protected under a civil service law, which requires just cause for a dismissal.

"It appears ... that employees of the Sheriff were terminated by (Hill) without cause," Boswell wrote in his order.

Comer said the county's civil service act includes all Sheriff's Office employees.

But Hill said after consultation with his attorney and Georgia Sheriffs' Association Inc. the move appeared legal.

Hill argues that the local civil service act does not comply with a similar state law, which he says requires the Board of Commissioners to approve a resolution for each group of employees that it wants protected under the civil service system.

Although Hill said he consulted with the Sheriffs' Association, the organization's vice president said the association could not support Hill's actions at this time.

"If this (civil service) system exists, like we believe it does ... we would hope that (Hill) would put those individuals back to work," said Terry Norris, executive vice president of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association Inc.