An Atlanta area sheriff with a history of legal troubles faces federal civil rights charges for having several inmates strapped to restraint chairs for hours when they did not pose a threat to MPs, prosecutors said.
In a lawsuit overturned Monday, Clayton County’s sheriff, Victor Hill, is charged with four offenses for using improper force against four people detained from his office last year and overriding their rights breached due process.
One of them was detained without being able to use a toilet for so long that he urinated on himself, according to prosecutors, who said Sheriff Hill had repeatedly made threatening comments to several people.
Federal authorities said the use of restraint chairs in any event has violated sheriff’s office guidelines that dictate that they should only be used when an inmate is behaving violently or uncontrollably and other control techniques are ineffective.
The indictment, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta on April 19, also stated that Sheriff Hill sent a squad of refugees armed with handguns and AR-15 rifles to arrest a landscaper for a misdemeanor last April. The man had been involved in a billing dispute with a sheriff’s deputy because he had worked for him.
“Badges and guns do not have the power to ignore the constitution,” said Christopher Macrae, an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Atlanta branch, in a statement Tuesday. “You have a responsibility to protect it from anyone who would harm it, especially another officer.”
Sheriff Hill, 56, of Hampton, Georgia, pleaded not guilty in Atlanta U.S. District Court Tuesday after reporting to authorities. He was later released.
In a statement posted Tuesday on Nixle, a public intelligence system, Sheriff Hill called the charges against him politically motivated.
“I will continue to focus on the crime-fighting mission in Clayton County to continue to thrive,” said Sheriff Hill, a Democrat and Independent who won more than 98 percent of the vote in his re-election last year.
Federal authorities said the first episode mentioned in the indictment happened in February 2000, when a man was detained without incident by sheriff MPs three weeks after allegedly assaulting two women in a grocery store.
The charges said Sheriff Hill asked the man what he was doing in Clayton County, and the man said, “It’s a democracy, sir. It’s the United States. “
“No, it is not,” replied the sheriff, according to the prosecution. “Not in my county.”
Other victims included a 17-year-old boy arrested for destroying his family’s home. a man arrested for a domestic disorder possibly related to drug use; and the landscaper, said the prosecution.
“Without explanation, Sheriff Hill allegedly ordered four inmates to be strapped into restraint chairs for hours,” Kurt R. Erskine, the acting US attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said in a statement Tuesday. “In this way, he caused pain and injury to those in his care. Such abuses of power not only harm victims, but also undermine community confidence in law enforcement. “
It was not immediately clear what happened in the criminal cases of the four people named in the indictment – they were identified only by their initials. The prosecution did not immediately respond to a request for further comment on Tuesday.
Drew Findling, an attorney for Sheriff Hill, said in an interview Tuesday that restraint chairs are easy to use in prisons and correctional facilities across the United States.
“We’re really shocked,” said Mr. Findling. “There is no evidence or allegation of systematic violence.”
Mr Findling said the Justice Department had sent mixed messages to police officers and Americans, citing its role in a number of federal executions in the dwindling days of the Trump administration and its muted response to high profile police brutality cases.
Sheriff Hill was first elected in 2004 but lost a 2008 runoff in Clayton County, south of Atlanta. He retook office in 2012 despite being charged with corruption charges, The Associated Press reported. A jury later acquitted him of all 27 offenses.
In 2016, Sheriff Hill did not advocate a competition after he shot and injured a woman in a Gwinnett County model house – he and the woman said it was an accident while practicing police tactics.
The governor of Georgia can suspend an elected official charged during his tenure by convening a three-person body under state law. Cody Hall, a spokesman for Governor Brian P. Kemp, said the governor’s office has not yet received the indictment and that Mr. Kemp will have to wait 14 days before convening the panel.