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Board reverses firing by Clayton County sheriff

By Justin Boron

A Clayton County employee appeals board on Wednesday overturned Sheriff Victor Hill's decision to fire sheriff's Lt. Tina Daniel.

Hill unsuccessfully tried to dismiss her on Jan. 3, was ordered to put her back to work, and then terminated her again in April alleging a history of insubordination and unruly behavior.

Along with 33 other current and former sheriff employees, Daniel has accused Hill of discrimination related to firings he authorized on the day he officially took office.

Having won her job back, Daniel expressed relief and said she wouldn't feel uncomfortable returning to the Sheriff's Office.

“As long as I'm given an opportunity to do my job, I think I'll be fine,” she said.

The Civil Service Board ordered Daniel reinstated with back pay, and she is scheduled to report to work at 8 a.m. today.

But with Hill's legal team promising to appeal, the duration of the victory is uncertain.

Brenton Bean, one of Hill's attorneys, said they planned to argue the merits of the case in Superior Court. He also said he would raise the potential bias of Don Gibbs, one of the board members who had supervised Daniel as a chief deputy under former Sheriff D.G. Lemacks.

Bean charged that Gibbs should have recused himself. Gibbs said he never has and never would be biased.

The case before the county's five-member, civil service panel centered around alleged events that followed Daniel's attendance of an April hearing in the county courthouse, where she had worked in the Sheriff's Office courthouse security division.

Daniel claimed she misunderstood an order. She said she thought she was ordered to provide security for the courtroom in which a judge was ruling on a motion that could have threatened her and other sheriff employees' protection from being fired without just cause.

Hill and members of his leadership team at the Sheriff's Office said Daniel was not acting on orders. They testified that when they confronted her about it, she became irate and used profanity in front of the public and other sheriff employees.

Daniel, who used to head up the sheriff's youth programs, denied all of the allegations.

“I've worked with too many children,” she said. “Why would I make comments like that?”

On the stand, Hill said he personally witnessed her use profanity and lose control in his office.

Harlan Miller, Daniel's attorney and the plaintiffs' counsel in the discrimination suit, pulled in evidence from the federal suit trying to discredit Hill.

Bean tried to guard against any questions or testimony that would delve into questions of the suit and objected repeatedly.

But his objections often fell on deaf ears, allowing the hearing to blow up into a preview of the voluminous federal case.

Hill's testimony, in particular, reached into a central question in the discrimination suit: Whether he had adequate justification to fire 27 employees.

Questioned by Miller, Hill said he originally tried to fire Daniel on Jan. 3 for writing bad checks, ineffective management of the youth outreach program, and misuse of county time for which she was being paid. Hill said he learned the information from his current chief deputy, Tee Cassells.

The accusations, which Daniel denied through her attorney, drew a potential picture of the justifications which Hill claims to have used when he dismissed her along with 26 other employees on his first official day in office.

But the accusations' credibility was quickly brought into question when Cassells testified that he didn't provide that information. He later recanted and said he may have provided the information on an occasion other than the one about which he was testifying.

Miller said that might have been the swinging point in the hearing and certainly weakened the reliability of Hill's testimony in future cases.

“It shows who is going to be believable to an impartial board or jury,” he said. “They have told so many lies. They are not smart enough to keep track of all their lies.”

Another issue that came down to credibility was whether Hill had asked Daniel for dates before he took office. Daniel said at least twice Hill asked her out.

Hill denied the allegation.