0

Sheriff doesn't accept rulings, legal advisor says

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill ignores the rulings of the county's Civil Service Board and does whatever he wants to do, his legal advisor testified before the board Tuesday.

R. Andres Marierose said he has heard the sheriff say many times, "he's going to run his office the way he wants to," and he doesn't care what anybody says.

"There have been decisions that have come down from the board for us to reverse an action, and the sheriff said he wasn't going to do it ... He would just not do it," Marierose said under cross-examination, during a hearing to appeal the firing of Hill's chief deputy.

The Clayton County Civil Service Board, which protects the employment rights of the county's civil servants, heard more than eight hours of testimony from sheriff's office employees concerning the firing of William "Tee" Cassells, the chief deputy who reportedly paid about $45,000 in overtime to a volunteer choir, and allegedly lied about it.

Cassells and his lawyer, Debra Schwartz, maintain the firing was illegitimate, and the 25-year veteran deputy was just a "fall guy" and a "scapegoat."

In the first full day of testimony, two weeks ago, the sheriff recounted the events leading up to the firing of Cassells, repeating that the choir was part of the "day-to-day operations" he doesn't deal with, and charging that Cassells knew about the overtime and lied, making him unfit for the second-in-command position. Though the department's official list of reasons for firing Cassells was long, Hill said the reason the man was fired was "because he lied."

The second full day of testimony began with Lt. Satira Walker, an investigator with the internal affairs division, going over her investigation of Cassells. Walker found the chief deputy guilty of "conduct unbecoming," but wouldn't say he had lied.

"That's an issue that's just going back and forth," she said. "You could call it a lie, you could say he recanted, you could say he changed his mind, but the fact stands [he said one thing at one time and another thing at another time]."

Walker said Cassells wasn't fired for any one thing, but for a "totality of things" found in the investigation.

According to Walker, Cassells was found guilty of conduct unbecoming, disobedience, making a statement to the media during an investigation, neglect of duty, and incompetence. Specific violations allegedly involve missing evidence found in Cassells' office after he left, unexplained expenses, personal expenses charged to the office, and saying to the Clayton News Daily he didn't lie to the sheriff and there must be "a misunderstanding."

Under cross examination from Schwartz, Walker admitted most of the documents in the internal investigation file were actually given to her by senior administrators in the office, many of whom were witnesses in the investigation. The witness statements in the file were pre-written and delivered to her, she said, a few weeks after Cassells was put on administrative leave. The statements weren't notarized, or sworn to, she didn't interview the witnesses, and at least one statement wasn't dated.

Walker said she didn't know if any of the witnesses were helped, or coached, in writing their statements, and said part of the investigation -- a polygraph test -- was done without her knowledge while she was on vacation.

Marierose, who told the board he passed the bar exam only two months before he became the sheriff's legal advisor, testified he did help compile parts of the investigative file. He said that is normally his practice when he anticipates a lawsuit, so he can "perfect the record."

The hearing is set to continue next week.