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Fired employees were Tuggle supporters

By Justin Boron

Several of the Clayton County Sheriff's Office employees dismissed Monday had paid for political advertisements promoting the re-election of former Sheriff Stanley Tuggle.

A political ad published in the News Daily for the primary between Sheriff Victor Hill and the incumbent Tuggle contains three names of staff members that a judge said Hill may have discharged without just cause.

Angelo Daniel, Garland Watkins, and M.G. Maddox appear on the ad as representatives of the African-American, White and other Ethnic Diverse Deputy Sheriffs United for Sheriff Stanley Tuggle.

The revelation coincides with an assertion the attorney for the fired employees' made, which said Hill's broad discharge of 23 high-and-low ranking deputies was "political retaliation" for their support of Tuggle.

Harlan Miller, the employees' lawyer, also said he would pursue some type of compensation for his clients, citing multiple cases of rights violations.

"There are a number of claims, and of course, we are investigating all possible relief for these folks. They have been publicly humiliated, they have been slandered on the radio by this Sheriff," Miller said. "And you bet, we're going to take the appropriate action."

Evan Kaine, Hill's attorney, said all the dismissals were part of a neutrally profiled, restructuring program.

He said the charge of "political retaliation" was baseless because Hill hired as chief deputy, William Cassells, who Kaine also says supported Tuggle during the election.

The fired employees were reinstated Wednesday but put on administrative leave until their final employment status is determined at a court hearing scheduled Jan. 14 at 10 a.m., Kaine said.

"They are at this moment placed on administrative leave with pay," said Hill's attorney Evan Kaine in a press release.

But some of the employees have said they feared retaliation in a potentially hostile working environment if retired Superior Court Judge Ben Miller sends them back to work next week.

"It (can) get to the point when the stress of going to work is not worth the paycheck you get," said former Major of Administrative Operations Larry Bartlett.

The employees' reinstatement complies with a judge's order Tuesday to reverse temporarily a spate of firings that threw the transitional county government into disorder and catapulted Clayton County into a regional and national spotlight.

Media outlets like the Associated Press and national Fox News grabbed the story after Hill placed armed observers on the roof of the Harold R. Banke Justice Center and arrested Mark Tuggle, the brother of former Sheriff Stanley Tuggle, for harassing phone calls.

Tuggle's bond was set at $2,000 for two misdemeanor offenses. He was expected to be released around 7 p.m. Wednesday.

His wife and daughter waited for him outside the county jail but declined to comment.

Tuggle's lawyer, Bailey Wallace, said he did not believe his client made any phone calls.

"The sheriff manufactured a case against (my client)," he said.

Wallace said his client would enter a not guilty plea.

But Tuggle's warrants say between Jan. 3 and 4, the former sheriff's brother made harassing phone calls, in which he called Hill "low down scum" on one occasion and a "short" derogatory name on another.

In the face of widespread controversy, public support for Hill - who overwhelmingly ousted the former sheriff in the July 20 primary - has wavered in the past three days.

Having stood behind Hill in the past, County Commissioner Wole Ralph stepped back from the new sheriff at the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night.

Along with other commissioners, he expressed consolation for the treatment of the dismissed staff members who attended the meeting.

"I really hope we can get an expeditious resolution through the legal process," Ralph said.

Local civil rights leader, Dexter Matthews, also said he disagreed with Hill's actions.

However, the local NAACP president said he did not think the tide had completely turned against Hill.

"People are probably more confused and hoping this is not another school board situation," Matthews said.

In May 2003, abreast similar political friction, the Clayton County school system was placed on probation by its accrediting organization, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The probation has been lifted.

Matthews said he worried lack of communication would lead to a similar circumstances in the county government.

"Cooler heads need to prevail," he said. "What they're doing now is in the worst interest of the county."

To help resolve the current conflict, Matthews recommended the county restore the crime scene investigation unit to the sheriff. The county commission placed the investigative unit under county police supervision Dec. 7.

Hill has threatened to sue if the county fails to do so.

The culmination of the crime scene unit's transfer and the recent developments have left Matthews frustrated with his home county.

"It's embarrassing for this county," he said. "I'm getting tired of being embarrassed."