JONESBORO — All eight candidates for Clayton County sheriff have experience working inside that department -- but only one will return as its leader after the votes are counted.
With so many candidates, the vote will likely be split and a run-off is expected next month to determine the winner. Candidates are Jon Antoine, Tina Daniel, Lawrence Ethridge, Victor Hill, Kem Kimbrough, Godreque Newsome, Ricky Redding and Rica Wright.
Most controversial, Hill served one term as sheriff from 2005 until he was ousted in 2008 by incumbent Kimbrough. On his first day in office, Hill fired 27 deputies after posting armed officers on the roof of the courthouse. It was just four years after newly-elected DeKalb Sheriff Derwin Brown was gunned down in his front yard by men hired by his crooked predecessor, Sidney Dorsey. Hill's rationale was he was protecting himself from disgruntled fired workers.
The act drew national attention. The deputies rallied, hired an attorney and sued the county. The settlement cost Clayton taxpayers millions of dollars and the deputies got their jobs back. That was the first year or so of Hill's administration.
Hill battled former Clayton County police Chief Jeff Turner, famously sending Turner — once his co-worker at the police department — an email signed "Your future employer." It was a dig at Hill's controversial and unsuccessful plan to abolish the county department and merge personnel and resources with the sheriff's office.
Hill battled Clayton Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, calling him "Grandpa" and ridiculing Bell's advancing years. Hill used to be Bell's driver and he had considered the older former Atlanta police officer a mentor.
Hill battled the entire Board of Commissioners when he moved plaques inside the courthouse around to suit his needs, had patrol cars repainted and his name plastered over nearly every piece of sheriff's office equipment.
He acquired a military tank, helicopter and airplane but failed to get insurance coverage from the county.
Hill paid the department's color guard overtime. When confronted over the supposedly volunteer service, Hill denied knowing they were being paid and blamed the lie on his chief deputy, Tee Cassells. Cassells was fired, hired an attorney, filed suit in federal court and was reinstated.
Hill called himself the "Crimefighter," and modeled himself after the comic character, Batman. He earned the less than stellar nicknames from his detractors -- "Walking Small" and "Little Vic.”
By the end of his first term, the people had had enough. He was defeated in August 2008 in a run-off with Kimbrough. A lame duck for months before his term ended in December, Hill was rarely seen.
But he was not forgotten.
In January, Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson announced a special prosecutor in charge of a 37-count criminal indictment against Hill for racketeering, theft, lying, influencing a witness and violation of oath by public officer. After hearing the charges in Clayton Superior Court, Hill walked out and boldly proclaimed, "I'm still running for sheriff."
He qualified for the office in May and continued his campaign. His certification as a Georgia peace officer has been suspended but the law allows sheriff's candidates six months after being elected to get certified. The law also allows a person under indictment to run for office.
However, should he be elected and then convicted during his term, the governor will have to appoint an interim sheriff and a special election will have to be held.