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County to federal court: Sheriff doesn't respect the law

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Two days after Sheriff Victor Hill's re-election bid was rejected by voters, Clayton County again asked a federal court to restrain him, and replace him.

The sheriff is indifferent to civil rights and "the law in general," county attorneys allege, and he is beyond the control of the county government that has to pay for his errors.

Facing a slew of lawsuits, the county government wants Hill stopped by the federal court.

The motion, filed Thursday by Hancock, Dempsey & Everett, repeats a request for a "receiver," or "monitor," to temporarily take over the sheriff's office until the lawsuits against Hill and the county are sorted out.

Hill's attorney's have said there is no legal precedent to do what the county is asking. They maintain the court doesn't have the authority to replace the sheriff, and contend the move is motivated by politics.

The county's attorneys have asked for an expedited hearing. Hill's tenure as sheriff ends in January. He sought re-election to a second term, but lost to Kem Kimbrough, in the Democratic Primary runoff Tuesday.

The controversial sheriff, who consistently fought with the County Commission, has incurred lawsuits, lost them, and then said it didn't matter, because "the insurance will pay for it." The county provides the insurance for the sheriff's office, and much of it already has been spent on settlements in the last few years. Any additional costs -- settlements in excess of the insurance, or the extensive legal fees -- come out of the general budget.

In May, defending itself in another lawsuit against the sheriff, the county filed a "cross-claim" against Hill, asking the federal court to stop his allegedly costly, flagrant and repeated violations of civil rights laws.

In the 199-page document, attorney's for the county argued that the Board of Commissioners has no control over the sheriff, and the sheriff is out of control. The document claimed Hill recklessly disregards the civil service rights of employees, obstructs justice by blocking Clayton County Police officers' jailhouse interviews, and subjects jail inmates to "cruel and inhumane" conditions.

The document was submitted by the county's attorney as an answer to a lawsuit filed by the former chief deputy sheriff, William "Tee" Cassells. Cassells' attorney filed a motion in support of removing Hill, after accusing him of bullying federal witnesses.

"Since taking office on Jan. 1, 2005, Sheriff Victor Hill ... has demonstrated a pattern and practice of indifference to others' civil rights," Cassells' attorney claimed in the brief.

The county filed another request for a "temporary monitor" on Thursday, citing the most recent federal lawsuit. In it, a former accountant claims she was wrongly harassed and fired because she is white, and the sheriff allegedly wants an all-black office.

"Once again," the attorney's wrote, "Sheriff' Hill's improper policies and conduct have exposed Clayton County to significant legal fees, litigation costs and potentially a sizable judgment against the sheriff."

The document describes the latest lawsuit as "further demonstration of Sheriff Hill's pattern and practice of indifference to the civil rights of his employees and to the law in general."

The precise role of the proposed "temporary monitor" the county wants in the sheriff's office is not exactly clear from the motions filed in federal court, but the attorney's suggested an agent of the court could restrain the sheriff and investigative alleged ongoing civil rights violations.

The federal court has not ruled whether it will hold a hearing on the matter.