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Sheriff, former top aide, in new suspension fight

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

As he continues to fight, the former second-in-command to Sheriff

Victor Hill plans to return to work again on Friday.

Shortly after the county's civil service board ruled that Hill shouldn't have fired William "Tee" Cassells, his former chief deputy, Cassells returned to work as a sergeant.

A week later, he was suspended, allegedly for insubordination.

Cassells has appealed the five-day suspension without pay, claiming Hill is punishing him for winning the last appeal.

In April, the board settled a dispute between the two men, ruling in Cassells' favor. Hill said he fired Cassells, a 25-year veteran of the department who was promoted to chief deputy when Hill took office in 2005, because the man repeatedly lied to him about overtime paid to a volunteer choir.

Cassells, along with a number of other witnesses who spoke at the board's hearing, testified that Hill knew about the overtime pay, had personally approved it, ordered it, and was only blaming Cassells because he got caught lying about the choir's pay to the media, and a grand jury.

Cassells returned to work at 6 a.m., on April 29, a week after the board awarded him his job back. On May 8, eight days later, he was suspended.

Cassells claims he was suspended because he refused to join the honor guard, which is an unpaid, volunteer position.

"I was called into the office of Sheriff Hill," Cassells wrote in his appeal to the board, "whereupon he belittled me and [harassed me] in front of at least a half-dozen witnesses ... The Sheriff stated several times that I had to be in the honor guard, and I explained several times that I did not wish to be in the honor guard. He then stated that I was suspended for insubordination. I was not insubordinate, I simply chose not to participate in a 'strictly volunteer' organization."

Hill did not return phone calls seeking comment on the suspension.

The suspension occurred just as attorneys for Clayton County filed paperwork in federal court asking a judge to protect the county, and the county coffers, from Sheriff Hill. The filing was a cross-claim in Cassells' federal civil suit against the sheriff and the county. The county wants to legally distance itself from the sheriff, and asked to have him temporarily removed from office.

The cross-claim alleges the sheriff has engaged in an 'improper pattern and practice of improper employment policies." In his county-level appeal, Cassells cites the county's federal suit cross-claim.

"I am requesting that the suspension be overturned," Cassells wrote in his appeal, "that it be stricken from my record, [and] that I be compensated for any lost pay."

According to Cassells' attorney, Debra Schwartz, the board has scheduled to hear the appeal in October.