JONESBORO Clayton County voters return to the polls Tuesday to choose a sheriff — either the incumbent or his predecessor who is facing a 37-count felony criminal indictment and possibly years in prison.
Sheriff Kem Kimbrough failed to garner enough votes July 31 to sweep back into office for a second term without a run-off with former Sheriff Victor Hill. Only 1,538 votes separated the two men, according to Clayton election results.
Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and will remain open until 7 p.m. According to Clayton elections officials, about 2,000 people cast early votes. The election is open to all voters who were registered to vote by July 2, except those who cast Republican ballots July 31.
Hill was elected the county's first black sheriff in 2004. On his first day in office in January 2009, Hill fired 27 deputies, posting armed snipers on the roof of the courthouse to counteract any violence. The deputies sued and collected a multi-million dollar settlement. They were also rehired.
The two men first faced off in 2008 with Kimbrough emerging the victor. In the ensuing four years, Hill ran unsuccessfully for state senate, sold cars for an Atlanta dealership and got indicted on 37 felony counts alleging he stole county funds and operated the sheriff's office as an enterprise that engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity.
Hill maintains his innocence and vows he will be exonerated. He claims the grand jury investigation was a politically-motivated effort to keep him out of office.
Kimbrough is facing a civil complaint in U.S. District Court alleging wrongful termination by LaDonna Williams. Williams filed suit against Kimbrough May 4 and seeks a jury trial and damages.
Kimbrough denies Williams' allegations and filed a motion July 9 to dismiss the complaint, calling the lawsuit a "scattershot litigation plan."
If Hill is elected and convicted while in office, the governor will have to appoint an interim sheriff. A special election may have to be set to fulfill Hill's remaining term. There may also be an issue with his certification as a police officer. The Peace Officers Standards and Training Council, which certifies law enforcement officers in Georgia, has suspended Hill's certification.
Hill will have just six months in which to be certified, if he is elected.
There is precedent in Clayton to have a candidate in legal trouble not only on the ballot but a winner in his race. In 2000, Coroner Marshall Newsome, then 48, won re-election in a landslide over a write-in candidate despite having been convicted two months before of 80 counts involving federal Medicaid fraud.
Newsome was sentenced Nov. 30, 2000, to 96 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and 60 hours maximum of community service. He was ordered to pay $12.7 million in restitution and an $8,000 special assessment, according to the Georgia Attorney General. He was also ordered to forfeit property in Riverdale that included a funeral home.
The Clayton coroner's office has since been abolished. Medical examiners from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab conduct autopsies when needed.