By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — Officials are in unchartered territory in finding the best way to handle the legalities of a sheriff under a 32-count felony indictment and facing years in prison if convicted.
Sheriff Victor Hill, 47, ascended to office Monday. His trial, delayed by defense and prosecution appeals, could be held later this year.
The Georgia Court of Appeals denied a defense request to disallow the state’s appeal based on jurisdictional grounds, said special prosecutor Layla Zon.
“Basically, they wanted the Court of Appeals to overrule (trial) Judge Albert Collier’s denial of their motion to dismiss my appeal,” she said.
Members of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation want Hill left alone to do his job. They got their wish Thursday, when Gov. Nathan Deal said he wouldn’t form a panel to review Hill’s possible suspension while his case winds its way through the court system.
The review request was made by the Georgia Sheriffs Association. Executive Director Terry Norris said Friday the organization is at an impasse with Deal’s decision.
“I think we’ve done all we know to do,” he said. “That was his intention, his decision. We made those points, the ones we believe to be valid. We got him to at least review the situation.”
The GSA wanted the panel to determine if Hill should be suspended from office until the court case was resolved. Members had offered former Clayton County Sheriff Bill Lemacks as an interim replacement. With the only course of action apparently stifled, Norris said the next step is unclear.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “This is a most unique set of circumstances.”
When Hill was indicted in January, his law enforcement certification issued by the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training Council was suspended so his next stumbling block could come from POST. Under Georgia law, an uncertified newly-elected sheriff has six months to get certified or becomes unqualified to hold office.
Whether or not Hill is considered certified is a gray area, said Ryan Powell, director of operations at POST.
“His certification is suspended and the law doesn’t specify the certification be valid,” said Powell. “It just says the sheriff must be certified. He is certified, just suspended. It’s almost a matter of semantics.”
Powell said POST can’t take any action until the end of June.
“At that time, we’ll contact the Attorney General’s Office to see how they would interpret that code section,” he said. “And go from there. If they go with him not being certified, we’ll follow the law and notify the Probate Court judge.”
If Hill is considered certified although suspended, POST won’t take any action unless he’s convicted. If Hill is convicted of any felony, his suspension becomes a revocation. However, even an exoneration or conviction of a misdemeanor doesn’t make the open POST investigation go away, said Powell.
“We will still finish the process,” he said. “The suspension can be lifted but he can still be under investigation. Of course, our case gets weaker if he is exonerated on all charges and we’ll close out the investigation pretty quick.”
Steve Frey, one of Hill’s four attorneys, said the suspended certification is a non-issue.
“He is certified,” said Frey. “POST won’t disagree that he’s certified. Six months won’t matter.”
Meanwhile, Hill quietly took office at midnight Monday, successfully avoiding reporters waiting at his parking space.