A Georgia sheriff who had ordered several detainees to be strapped to restraint chairs for hours at a time was found guilty on Wednesday of violating their civil rights, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia.
The Clayton County sheriff, Victor Hill, was convicted by a 12-person jury on six of seven counts of federal civil rights violations for ordering his employees in 2019 and 2020 to use excessive force against six detainees at the Clayton County Jail, prosecutors said.
During the two-week trial, the detainees testified that they had been kept on restraint chairs for hours, even though they posed no danger to deputies, and some urinated on themselves or were injured, prosecutors said.
“No person, whether a member of law enforcement, an elected official or otherwise, has the right, or can assume the power, to violate the rights of the citizens in their care,” the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, Ryan K. Buchanan, said in a statement.
Drew Findling, a lawyer for Sheriff Hill, told reporters on Wednesday, “You can rest assured that this case, on behalf of Sheriff Victor Hill, will be appealed.” He did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment on Wednesday night.
After his indictment in April 2021, Sheriff Hill, of Hampton, Ga., called the charges against him politically motivated. “I will continue to focus on the mission of fighting crime in Clayton County for continued success,” he said in a statement at the time. He could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday. The Clayton County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment on Wednesday.
Gov. Brian Kemp suspended Sheriff Hill last year after he was indicted on felony charges related to the restraint chairs.
Sheriff Hill faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced.
Sheriff Hill showed little emotion when he heard the verdict from the jury, which deliberated for four days, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The jury sent a note to Judge Eleanor Ross, saying that one juror had not been following instructions and had repeated that he believed “the sheriff and the president are above the law and not required to follow the Constitution,” the newspaper reported.
Still, the jury arrived at an agreement by Wednesday afternoon and delivered their verdict.
Sheriff Hill has argued that he needed to maintain order in his jail and that there was no evidence of systemic violence inside the facility.
But prosecutors told the jury that Sheriff Hill’s use of force was unreasonable, amounted to excessive punishment and was a form of revenge against detainees.
Prosecutors said that Sheriff Hill had repeatedly made menacing comments toward several detainees and that the use of restraint chairs in each case had violated the policies of the sheriff’s office. Such rules stipulate that restraint chairs should be used only when an inmate exhibits violent or uncontrollable behavior and when other control techniques are not effective.
One 17-year-old was confined to the restraint chair for 10 hours, and others urinated on themselves after begging Sheriff Hill’s jail staff to let them use the restroom, according to prosecutors.
The guilty verdict came about 18 years after Sheriff Hill was first elected in 2004. He lost a runoff in 2008 but reclaimed the office in 2012, despite being under indictment on felony corruption charges. A jury later acquitted him of all 27 felony charges.
In 2020, Sheriff Hill, running as a Democrat and independent, received more than 98 percent of the vote in his re-election campaign. His popularity was boosted by his behavior online: He referred to himself as “THE CRIME FIGHTER” and regularly posted selfies with celebrities as they passed through Clayton County, which is just south of Atlanta.
“Honored to be sworn in today as an Honorary Deputy by Sheriff Victor Hill!” Ric Flair, the wrestler, wrote in a post on Twitter from 2016. In a Facebook post, Sheriff Hill is seen smiling alongside the actor Robert DeNiro. And in 2020 Sheriff Hill shared a photo of a metropolis with a Batman-like signal in a dark sky, spelling out: “SHERIFF HILL.”