By Ed Brock and Justin Boron
Forty-two inmates at the Clayton County Jail have sent a complaint to the county chief Superior Court judge and several other elected officials and rights organizations, alleging abuse of authority and “atrocious violations of human, civil, constitutional, and prisoner rights.”
The allegations add more fuel to the debate over conditions at the jail, some of which the current and previous sheriff have attributed to insufficient staffing levels.
Dated Nov. 9 and signed by 42 inmates, the complaint is full of general criticism for Sheriff Victor Hill and conditions at the jail. Most of the inmates on the list were confirmed as being active inmates, but some were described as “inactive” meaning they are no longer at the jail for various reasons like release, parole or transfer.
At least one was listed as wanted and some names and inmate numbers were illegible.
In the six handwritten pages, it cites poor quality of food, unsanitary living conditions, no access to a law library, and no effective way to make a formal complaint about mistreatment by officers. But it rarely cites any specific incidents or violations.
It does allege a “recent” incident in which Hill reprimanded several inmates for one prisoner's failure to comply with a standing order to stand at attention whenever an officer ranked sergeant or above enters an inmate's immediate area.
“The sheriff supposedly observed an inmate inside his cell room looking out his door window ... and immediately put the entire POD (approximately 50 men) on lock down which means no contact with family or society and (the elimination) of all opportunities to help ourselves in our legalities with our attorneys in proving our innocence,” the letter says.
Hill declined to comment for this story.
But a Sheriff's Office mailer recently received by Clayton County residents extols Hill's improvement of the jail.
“A jail that was once filthy is now sparkling clean. Incidents of violence have decreased, and we now have a cleaner, safer institution where inmates are less likely to assault or harm our officers, each other or themselves,” the mailer entitled “Report to the People” says.
Although the News Daily was unable to verify the inmates' account of the incident, Hill has demonstrated the standing rule during media and public tours of the jail.
Frank Brandon, the foreman of the Clayton County grand jury, recently took a tour of the jail.
“It looked impeccable the way they set it up,” he said.
At the same time, Brandon said the tour was prearranged and members of the sheriff's staff went down to check on the jail before the grand jury members were allowed through.
“They clean it up, they make sure everything is OK,” Brandon said.
He also said they were not allowed to speak with any inmates since they were forced to stand at attention while Brandon and the others were in the room.
The Sheriff's Office mailer also describes imposing “a military boot-camp approach.”
“It took 37 days to implement a military boot-camp approach to how we operate the Clayton County Jail, and a new attitude has prevailed,” the mailer says. There is no indication on the mailing of how many of the mailings were made, what they cost and who paid for the printing and mailing.
The inmates' letter is addressed to Superior Court Chief Judge Stephen Boswell, County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, U.S. Congressman David Scott, state Sen. Valencia Seay, the Southern Center for Human Rights, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Sheriff's Office internal affairs division.
Bell and Seay acknowledged receiving the complaint. Scott's office said they had not received it. Other elected officials and agencies could not be reached.
Gerald Rose, founder of the New Order civil rights group that has a chapter in Clayton County, said he was shocked to hear about the allegations. Rose spearheaded protests in 2002 regarding the death of Northur Burks, an inmate at the jail who, according to an official investigation, was found dead hanging in his cell. Stanley Tuggle, Hill's predecessor, was sheriff at that time.
“If these allegations are true New Order will arrange a meeting with Victor Hill to determine if they are being addressed,” Rose said.
Seay said she spoke to Hill, who gave her his word that he would look into the matter.
In the sheriff's mailer, the public is invited to tour the detention center. To arrange one, it says call the Sheriff's Office at (770) 477-4400.