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Detectives' access to jail interviews again resumes

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Almost two weeks after Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill first denied them access to inmates in the jail, Clayton County Police Department detectives were allowed in on Monday.

By then, said Police Chief Jeff Turner, one of the men the detectives wanted to speak to -- a suspect in a burglary ring who was incarcerated on unrelated charges -- had received bond and was back on the street.

"Right now we're good," Turner said, "but I'm really tired of this cat-and-mouse [game]. I'm not playing Victor's games anymore."

The sheriff and his media representative have not returned repeated phone calls from the Clayton News Daily for weeks. Speaking to television reporters, Hill said the police department wasn't making information available to him and said Turner was being uncooperative and unreasonable.

Hill reportedly wanted burglary statistics from the county police so he can start a burglary suppression unit, similar to the one run by the police department.

Turner said the statistics are available to anyone who has access to the county computers, so the police weren't restricting the sheriff's office at all.

Hill didn't see it that way, and cut off the police department's access to the jail on Thursday, March 27. When detectives went to the jail to interview a possible burglary suspect and a suspected child molester, they were turned away, Turner said.

The police department printed out the hundreds of pages of statistics and turned them over to Hill's deputies. Hill reversed the order locking out the detectives, but then added a requirement, mandating detectives write out and submit a summary of their case before they could gain access to the jail.

It is not clear why Hill wanted the case summary. He told the television news it was to verify his cooperation. Turner said he was afraid the sheriff and his deputies would try to jump in on the police department's investigations.

"We already have his deputies jumping our 911 calls," Turner said. "Why else would they want this information? We have to protect the integrity of our investigations."

Police detectives wrote out and submitted the name of the inmate they wanted to talk to and they wrote a single-sentence description of the kind of case -- burglary, child molestation, armed robbery -- they were working. Last week, they were turned away and told they hadn't complied with the sheriff's requirements.

On Friday morning, more than a week since the argument began, Turner was considering calling the state Attorney General and asking for intervention.

On Monday morning, the police chief said, the detectives were allowed into the jail to speak to inmates.

The conflict appeared to be over Monday, though no one suspected it would be the last one.

Hill, who is up for election this year, has made it a campaign promise that he will abolish the county police department, merging it into the sheriff's department.