By Curt Yeomans
Despite campaign pledges to not run the Sheriff's Department like his predecessor had, new Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough commenced his term Thursday much in the same way former Sheriff Victor Hill, did -- by firing deputies. He fired 14.
The situation mirrors what happened four years earlier, when Hill fired 27 deputies on his first day in office. That incident resulted in a $6.5 million settlement in U.S. District Court.
But, at least one sheriff's deputy fired in the latest case is alleging that he was let go because of his ties to the former sheriff.
"I was fired because I was his [Hill's] driver," said Edward Hobbs. "I did nothing else besides that, other than my job. What did I do wrong? I did not beat anyone up. I did not use my position to intimidate anyone."
Kimbrough's actions were in stark contrast to comments he made last summer on the campaign trail. In August 2008, then-candidate Kimbrough told the Clayton News Daily, "there's no planned upheaval. There will be no major changes," and he would not go into office and fire people on his first day like Hill had done.
But, Kimbrough said he had specific reasons for dismissing each deputy. "They were people who had failed their training, were not certified, or had criminal records," said the new sheriff. "There was nothing mass done about this. Each deputy was called in to a private meeting and told exactly why they were being fired.
"All of these people were in their probationary period, so we're not talking about veterans or anything like that," the sheriff added.
That includes Hobbs, a seven-year veteran of the Fulton County Sheriff's department, who was arrested on a battery charge shortly after he began working for Hill. "That was dismissed by the judge after my wife and I completed our counseling," said Hobbs, who said a similar charge from 2005 was also dismissed.
Hobbs also took offense when Kimbrough said the now-former deputies were "thugs" and "rejects" during an interview with WSB-TV. "If I'm a thug, a reject, then why is it I was employed by Fulton County for seven years and left there [in 2007] in good standing?" Hobbs asked.
While Kimbrough and his predecessor fired deputies on their first day in office, Kimbrough's handling of the firings contrasted greatly from the way Hill dealt with the deputies he fired.
The former sheriff had what he called "observers," who were armed, on the roof of the courthouse as the fired deputies were escorted out of the building, according to news accounts from Jan. 4, 2005.
That scene was not repeated this time, according to Kimbrough and Hobbs. "Hell no," Kimbrough said. "Nobody had their weapons out of their holsters. We didn't have anybody walking around the jail twirling their weapons."
Kimbrough also said a review of the sheriff's department showed that several items were missing, including pistols which numbered in the "single digits," and keys to the jail. Kimbrough had the inventory review performed because Hill would not provide him with a list of the department's resources before the former sheriff left office, according to Kimbrough.
An inventory review is also something the Georgia Sheriff's Association encourages new sheriff's to do immediately upon taking office. As a result of the missing keys, Kimbrough had a locksmith come to the jail Friday to change the locks on all the doors.
"Hopefully, they will turn up, but we're taking precautions just in case," Kimbrough said.