Lives taped closed in a cardboard box

By Justin Boron

Clayton County Sheriff's deputies packed away and taped shut artifacts of over two dozen lives Friday as employees dismissed by Sheriff Victor Hill gathered outside his office to collect the personal effects they were forced to leave behind five days ago.

The sensation of Hill's heightened security measures has diminished for many. What persists is the sentiment of those employees whose lives were transformed in the whirlwind of firings that took place Monday on Hill's first day at work.

Although Hill rehired them and placed them on administrative leave, many of the dismissed employees said nothing could take their mind off the uncertainty over their jobs.

"You walk around the house, and you don't have a purpose," said Lt. Kim Terrance Smith, 41.

They said they are caught in limbo, reinstated but prohibited from entering the building where they worked. The mentally worn employees say they eagerly wait for a judge to decide Friday whether their firing was unlawful.

Coming back to the job site for the first time since being dismissed, the fired employees met awkward glances from some remaining deputies and sobbing hugs from others.

Current sheriff staff members whispered words of support as they left the office after the day's work. But they also expressed fear for their own jobs if they spoke to or gave their names to media.

One current staff member, who worked directly with Sheriff Stanley Tuggle on a daily basis, said her job now was ambiguous, doing "whatever" she was asked to do.

Although the 27 employees caught the brunt of Hill's reorganization, many still had heartfelt emotions for those who were able to keep their jobs.

"There is some good people in that building," said Major Doug Massengale.

The employees waited with their attorney nearly three hours before all their belongings had been returned to them.

But that was to be expected, said Harlan Miller, the fired employees' lawyer.

The group had demanded its possessions all week but could not come back on the property, he said.

"We had a letter that said don't show your hides here," Miller said.

Miller had planned to ask for a contempt of court action Friday but said he did not pursue it because it could complicate the question of his clients' civil service protection, which prevents their dismissal without cause.

While the employees waited outside, Hill made another move that could strain his relationship with the county further.

Hill has decided not to swear in the county's narcotics unit because he said he needs to audit the organization, citing possible administrative problems.

The Drug Task Force is made up of officers from the County Police Department, the County Sheriff's Office, the district attorney's office, and several municipalities.

The unit had come close to being placed under complete police control before Hill took office. But the Board of Commissioners failed to transfer it with the crime scene investigations unit on Dec. 7.

Accounting firm KPMG had conducted an independent audit of the unit in October and found misdirected funds, which led to the resignation of its director, Clarence Cox.

Hill has said he needs to "audit the audit."

By refusing to deputize the unit, he could complicate the operations of Forest Park, Morrow, and Riverdale, who Hill says cannot operate outside of their jurisdictional lines without deputization.