By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough may soon find himself listed as a co-defendant in a federal lawsuit against former Sheriff Victor Hill.
George Mark Tuggle has been awarded nearly a half-million dollars in a wrongful arrest suit against Hill.
Hill left office on Dec. 31, and Kimbrough became the new sheriff a day later. Tuggle's attorney, Bill Atkins, filed a motion in U.S. District Court on Jan. 19, seeking to have Kimbrough added as a defendant, in his official capacity.
"It happens automatically, anyway, but this clarifies the sheriff's department's role in this lawsuit," Atkins said. "Sheriff Kimbrough is very much on the hook for this judgment. There is this misperception out there that once Victor Hill left office, that somehow removed any specter of responsibility for the sheriff's department. It's not true. It's not how it happens."
If the motion is granted by Judge Orinda D. Evans, it would make the county responsible for paying part of a $664,539.25 bond, which includes a $475,000 judgment owed to Tuggle.
Tuggle's brother, Stanley, was Hill's predecessor as sheriff.
Tuggle's suit involves a 2005 incident, in which Hill had Tuggle arrested for allegedly making harassing phone calls to the sheriff's department. Tuggle spent 18 hours in jail before he posted bond. The charges were later dropped.
In September 2008, a federal jury determined that Hill had violated Tuggle's rights by having him arrested, and awarded Tuggle $475,000 as a result. Hill appealed the verdict, but Evans ordered Hill to post the $664,539.25 bond in order to keep the appeal going in the courts. The bond included the judgment and attorney fees.
Hill never posted the bond. When he asked for an extension, Hill's attorney, James Dearing, said county officials refused to pay any portion of the bond.
County Attorney Michael Smith said he disagreed with Atkins' assessment of the county's responsibility. "It takes you back to the issue of whether or not the sheriff's department is responsible," Smith said.
Smith said he will probably file a response, but he declined to say when, or what arguments he might make.
E.R. Lanier, a law professor-emeritus at Georgia State University, and an expert in civil procedures, said the motion to add Kimbrough is not uncommon in such cases. Though Kimbrough was not the sheriff when Hill had George Mark Tuggle arrested, Lanier said the office remains liable for the former sheriff's action after a transfer of power.
"The county is still responsible, because he [Hill] was an agent of the county at the time," Lanier said.
Hill filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection on his last day in office. The bankruptcy filing protected his Riverdale home from a lien Atkins placed against it to make sure the former sheriff paid the judgment.
Atkins said he will file paperwork in federal bankruptcy court to have the judgment declared a non-dischargeable debt.
"We're going to make sure he's not able to avoid this particular type of debt," Atkins said.