JONESBORO — Despite facing a 37-felony count indictment and possibly years in prison, Victor Hill is the apparent winner of the Clayton County sheriff’s race, according to unofficial election results available at press time at Tuesday.
With 59 of 60 precincts accounted for, Hill garnered 12,927 votes, or 53.68 percent, compared to Kem Kimbrough’s 11,155, or 46.32 percent. The only votes not included in Tuesday’s totals were the provisional ballots, which can take several days to finalize.
Hill was elected the county’s first black sheriff in 2004 and served one tumultuous term fraught with firings and multi-million dollar lawsuits. When he ran for a second term, he was defeated by Kimbrough in 2008, losing by 686 votes in a run-off. Hill was indicted in January on 37 felony counts related to alleged wrongdoing while in office.
Kimbrough and Hill battled for the office again July 31 but ended up in Tuesday’s run-off when neither got enough votes to win outright.
Now, Hill is apparently back but will he proceed unscathed into office Jan. 1 or face the new year a convicted felon stripped of the right to serve the voters who obviously prefer his brand of leadership?
Kimbrough was obviously crushed by the loss but said he will abide by the will of the voters.
“We gave it our best shot for the last three and a half years and the people have made their decision,” he said. “I respect them and always will.”
Hill said he was humbled and looked forward to getting back to the business of fighting crime.
“Tonight, I am humbled by God and the support of the Clayton County voters and accept their will to serve once again, as sheriff of Clayton County,” he said. “I want to thank the many volunteers, advisors and friends that worked tirelessly over the last few months to make tonight’s victory a reality.”
Not everyone shared in Hill’s celebratory spirit. Atlanta attorney Harlan Miller represented the 27 deputies Hill fired on his first day in office in January 2005. Miller got their jobs back and a multimillion dollar settlement for the group.
“All I can say is that Victor Hill is like a bad ant bed,” said Miller. “Scary to stumble across and hard to get rid of.”
Former Clayton County police Chief Jeff Turner became chairman-elect of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday. Turner and Hill worked together when both were Clayton police officers but parted ways once Hill became sheriff and Turner became chief. Hill made it known he wanted to abolish the police department and merge personnel into the sheriff’s office with himself as top law enforcement officer. He famously once signed an email to Turner “Your future employer.”
Although sheriff is a constitutional officer, the position operates under the direction of the Board of Commissioners. Turner said Tuesday he plans to work with Hill in a professional manner.
“We have to all work for the betterment of the people of Clayton County,” said Turner. “I am committed to working together to serve the citizens of Clayton County.”
Attorney Bill Atkins represents Mark Tuggle, the brother of Hill’s predecessor. On Hill’s first day in office in January 2005, Tuggle called Hill and left two messages for him. Tuggle knew many of the men and women Hill had fired and was upset. He left two voice mail messages that Hill interpreted as threats and had him arrested. The charges were thrown out and Tuggle sued Hill in Federal Court.
Tuggle won more than a half-million dollars and Atkins was awarded attorney’s fees. Hill has not paid a cent on the settlement, said Atkins. Atkins predicted more lawsuits if Hill returns to office.
“I am sorry to hear that a majority of Clayton County voters saw fit to return Victor Hill to office,” he said. “I have worked around law enforcement for my entire professional career. I can think of no person less qualified to serve in law enforcement. Clayton County will remain fodder for humor and fertile land for civil rights attorneys.”
Jon Antoine was one of eight candidates vying for the sheriff’s office in the July primary. He lost with about 2 percent of the vote.
“This is a case of the electorate voting against somebody rather than for somebody,” said Antoine.
Other former Hill employees were also indicted on charges related to work in the sheriff’s office, including his former public information officer, Jonathan Newton. Newton said voters were left with a difficult choice in this election.
“Although Hill is indicted, under our system of justice a man is innocent until proven guilty,” said Newton. “It became apparent from the outset that Sheriff Kimbrough intended to use Hill’s criminal indictment as a political tool. In the end, the citizens saw Kimbrough’s attempt to politicize justice as a greater form of corruption than the actions outlined in the indictment. I believe the majority of Clayton County citizens now know that Kem Kimbrough is just as corrupt as Victor Hill.”
Hill’s attorney, Steve Frey, said Tuesday night that he is happy with his client’s victory.
“I’m extremely pleased for him,” said Frey. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and we plan to be as successful as the election.”
There is no trial date set yet but Hill returns to court for motions Sept. 10 as sheriff-elect and with a goal to get his case heard as quickly as possible — under the theory he will be exonerated. If convicted of one felony, Hill cannot hold office and the governor will have to appoint an interim sheriff.
“We are preparing to try the case and we know we will try the case sooner than we would have had he lost,” said Frey.
Hill’s focus Tuesday night was getting back in office and taking back the streets.
“As promised, I want to advise those who prey on others by breaking into homes, robbing businesses and drug trafficking to stop or leave Clayton while you still can,” he said. “Your presence is not wanted and your lawlessness will not be tolerated. I want to thank everyone once again. May God bless you all and may God bless Clayton County.”