A judge sentenced a former Georgia sheriff to 18 months in federal prison Tuesday following a conviction for allegedly violating the constitutional rights of detainees at the county jail.
In addition to the year and half behind bars, U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross sentenced former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill to six years of supervised release and 100 hours of community service.
"This is a case of first impression in the United States of America. The purchase of a completely legal restraint chair, which is used throughout the United States both in federal, state and municipalities for the first time a sheriff, without any notice that you can be prosecuted, was in fact prosecuted," Hill’s attorney said at a press conference outside the courthouse after the sentencing.
Hill was federally indicted in April 2021 for violating the civil rights of detainees at the Clayton County Jail by strapping them into restraint chairs as punishment. The use of restrain devices are only permitted if it is believed a detainee may cause personal harm to themselves or others.
FOX 5 Atlanta reported that prosecutors showed cell phone video recorded by a former Clayton County Sheriff's Office employee showing Hill’s conversation with a man named Joseph Arnold on Feb. 25, 2020. Arnold was accused of assaulting two women inside a grocery store and was being booked into jail.
"What was you doing in Clayton County that day?" Hill asked Arnold.
"It's a democracy, sir. It's the United States," Arnold responded.
"No, it's not. Not in my county," Hill said, rejecting Arnold assertions of his right "to a fair and speedy trial." "Roll that chair 'round here," Hill ordered deputies. "Roll that chair 'round here."
Prosecutions also showed surveillance video of Hill’s interactions with Glenn Howell on April 27, 2020. Howell, a landscaper, had a dispute with a deputy after work done on his property. The sheriff called the landscaper to intervene, and after the conversation grew heated, Hill allegedly sought a warrant for Howell’s arrest for "harassing communications," FOX 5 reported.
The video shows Howell being processed, and after a conversation with Hill, he’s placed in a waiting restraint chair.
Other former detainees testified that Hill left them in the restraint chair for hours, causing them to urinate themselves. Hill was convicted by an Atlanta federal jury in October of six of seven counts of violating the constitutional rights of jail detainees from December 2019 to May 2020.
"It is important to note the judge took into consideration all of the things that Victor Hill did for the community and more specifically at the Clayton County Jail," Hill’s attorney said after the sentencing. "A very important theme that we had in this case that was prosecuted by the Department of Justice – the same Department of Justice that is completely ignoring the use of solitary confinement both in the federal jails here, in local jails, and throughout the United States. The statistics are robust that 8% of federal detainees in this country at some point are in solitary confinement."
"But you don’t see the Department of Justice prosecuting and investigating its own people, just going after what we call a shiny object and that is Victor Hill, who has incredible notoriety and somebody that the community recognizes," the lawyer added. "The fact that he has been singled out, to us still remains somewhat of a disgrace."
The lawyer said he was grateful for the judge’s drastic reduction of the sentence sought by prosecutors, though defense hoped for no time served. The lawyer also promised an appeal.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Hill remains popular in Clayton County despite his conviction, as many residents sent in letters pleading for leniency.
According to the newspaper, "Supporters of the defrocked sheriff, however, consider him a hero who remembered to send birthday cards to the elderly and created a strong man persona meant to keep bad guys from crossing into Clayton."
"Detractors, however, portray him as a wanna-be dictator whose antics have deterred economic development in the county for two decades. To them, Hill’s sentencing is the breath of fresh air that has been years in the making," the Journal wrote.