Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill addresses the county commission in this July 5, 2006 photo. Hill fought several battles with the commission during his time in the sheriff's offices. (Staff Photo: Jeff Leo)
Victor Hill wanted to be Clayton County’s sheriff for 20 years, but he only got one four-year term that played out like a roller coaster ride for him –– and the county.
The county’s first African-American sheriff wanted to spend his time trying to fight crime, but ended up in battles with county leaders, his former employees, and other law enforcement officials.
And, now, the man who, at times, compared himself to a wide range of real-life, and fictional characters, including Jesus and Batman, has been indicted on a long list of charges, stemming back to his days in the sheriff’s office, 2005 to 2008.
He conducted high-profile prostitution and gambling raids during his tenure, but also found himself embroiled in high-profile scandals from the day he took office. Hill was known as much for his battles with other officials, as he was for his efforts to combat crime.
“That [the battles] was one of Victor’s failings,” said current sheriff, Kem Kimbrough, on Wednesday, after Hill was indicted. “We can always do more, when we work together.”
Hill was a polarizing figure in the county, and remains so, long after he ceased to be the sheriff. His supporters call him, “The Crimefighter,” but his critics call him more derisive names, such as “Walking Small.”
The most controversial event that hung over his entire tenure as sheriff was the firing of 27 deputies on his first day in office, in January 2005. Armed “observers” were allegedly placed on the roof of the county jail, as the deputies were escorted away. Hill cited, at the time, the murder of DeKalb County Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown as his reason for having the “observers” on the roof.
Hill was later ordered by a judge to reinstate the deputies. A federal lawsuit stemming from the case resulted in the county having to pay millions of dollars to the deputies, thereby exhausting much of the insurance funds which had been set aside to pay legal settlements.
“I will not do anything that will hinder the office of sheriff,” Hill said while addressing the firings during a Jan. 11, 2005 news conference. “I can’t subject this office to any type of mismanagement.”
But, the scandals, lawsuits and public feuds kept coming.
Hill had Mark Tuggle, the brother of former sheriff, Stanley Tuggle, arrested on his second day in office. Hill accused him of allegedly making harassing phone calls to the sheriff’s office, following the firings of the deputies. Charges against Mark Tuggle were later dropped. The arrest led to another federal lawsuit, and a near half-million dollar court judgment against Hill. Tuggle was later listed as a debtor to whom Hill owed money, when Hill filed for bankruptcy protection in late 2008.
There were other scandals involving firings, such as the firing of Hill’s former chief deputy, William T. Cassells, in 2006, in the aftermath of a scandal involving overtime payments to deputies who were participating in a Clayton County Sheriff’s Office choir. Cassells eventually sued Hill in federal court over the firing.
“Since taking office on Jan. 1, 2005, Sheriff Victor Hill ... has demonstrated a pattern and practice of indifference to others’ civil rights,” attorneys for Cassells wrote in legal documents filed during the course of the case. After court action was taken, Cassells was reinstated to his position.
There were also conflicts with other officials in the county. Chief among those, with whom Hill had long-standing feuds, was former Clayton County police chief, Jeff Turner, who said in December 2008, that he and Hill were “bumping heads” with each other in squabbles over their authority.
Hill longed for the consolidation of the sheriff’s office and the county police department, with him being in charge of all law enforcement in Clayton County. The issue went before voters on the Clayton County Democratic Primary ballot in July 2008, but 55 percent of the electorate voted against consolidation.
There were other fights between Turner and Hill, particularly over the former sheriff not allowing police officers to have access to inmates at the county jail. Turner said, at the time, that officers needed to have access to the inmates, so they could interview them to gain information that could help lead to the solving of some crimes in the county.
Another group that Hill fought with was the county commissioners, and his battles with them began even before he took office as sheriff. In late 2004, the commission voted to move the county crime scene investigation unit to the police department in a move protested by Hill.
In January 2005, the commission voted to move the county’s Drug Task Force under the authority of the police department as well. Until that time, it had been under the joint authority of the sheriff’s office and the police department. Hill immediately tried to stop the move, in the courts, but he quickly decided to create his own drug task force, instead.
The unit became known as the C.O.B.R.A. Unit, and it was followed by other special task forces within the sheriff’s office, including the Panther Unit anti-stalking task force. His vice task forces became known for their raids, particularly of “spas,” where Hill claimed prostitution was taking place.
Some of the charges against people arrested during the spa raids later ended up being thrown out, because they were not properly handled.
Hill’s feuds with the commission began raising problems early on. Less than halfway into his first month on the job, Hill admitted that he was not conducting background checks on new hires he was making in his office. Officials in the county’s personnel department simultaneously reported that they had no knowledge of at least some of the hires Hill was making.
County Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph told the Clayton News Daily, at the time, that “friction” between Hill and the commission was leading to standard procedures “breaking down.”
Hill continually battled with the commission throughout his tenure as sheriff. When he acquired a tank, and an airplane, from the U.S. military for his office in 2007, the commission refused to buy insurance for the vehicles, thereby, preventing them from being used.
Eventually, Hill lost to Kimbrough in a closely contested, primary run-off election in August 2008. Then, there were allegations that the outgoing sheriff had abandoned his post following the loss. He was rarely, it if ever, seen around his office.
That led the county commission to seek intervention from Gov. Sonny Perdue, but Hill ended up serving the remaining months of his term.