Ex-sheriff convicted of civil rights abuses to be sentenced

ATLANTA (AP) – A former Georgia sheriff convicted of violating the civil rights of people in his custody by unnecessarily strapping them into restraint chairs is set to be sentenced Tuesday with prosecutors seeking several years in prison.

A jury in October convicted Victor Hill – who was sheriff of Clayton County, just south of Atlanta – on six of seven federal charges against him. Prosecutors recommended in a sentencing memo filed with the court that he serve three years and 10 months in prison, while defense attorneys are asking for a sentence of probation, home confinement and a fine.

His trial included about a week of testimony from more than three dozen witnesses, including the men who were restrained. Prosecutors said Hill ordered detainees strapped into restraint chairs at the county jail for hours even though they posed no threat and complied with deputies’ instructions. The use of the chairs was unnecessary, was improperly used as punishment and caused pain and bodily injury in violation of the civil rights of seven men, prosecutors argued.

Defense attorneys argued that Hill legally used the restraint chairs to keep order at the jail and didn’t overstep his lawful authority. They also argued that he had no intention of violating the civil rights of detainees and had no warning that such conduct could be considered criminal.

Jurors deliberated for several days, deadlocking more than once, prompting the judge to urge them to continue deliberating to reach a unanimous verdict. The jury foreperson raised concerns about one juror to the judge, who questioned both the juror and foreperson in open court.

After the guilty verdict, defense attorney Drew Findling said he was concerned by the singling out of one juror during deliberations and told The Associated Press at the time that a review of case law indicated that “this conviction will struggle to survive legal review by an appellate court.”

Federal sentencing guidelines are calculated based on a number of factors, including the offense itself and the person’s criminal history, and are not binding on the judge.

According to prosecutors’ calculations, the guidelines for Hill include a sentencing range of three years and 10 months to four years and nine months. Prosecutors recommend a sentence at the bottom end of that range, saying in a sentencing memo that it is appropriate and “accounts for Mr. Hill abusing his authority and physically harming numerous pre-trial detainees under his care in the Clayton County Jail.”

Defense calculations put the sentencing range at three years and one month to three years and 10 months. But they are asking U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross to use her discretion to depart from that and give him a sentence of probation, home confinement and a fine. Defense attorneys wrote in their sentencing memo that “such a sentence is wholly consistent with the case facts, Mr. Hill’s history, and ultimately, will best serve the community that he has honorably served for decades.”

In addition to legal arguments, the defense sentencing memo includes a brief personal history of Hill that stresses his lifelong desire to serve in law enforcement and his consistent goal to be “a difference-making law enforcement officer.” His attorneys also submitted two dozen letters from people – including family members, clergy and Clayton County residents – attesting to his good character and asking the judge for leniency.

Hill, 58, was suspended by the governor after his indictment and filed for retirement after his conviction. He had been a magnet for controversy from the time he first took office as Clayton County sheriff in 2005. He fired 27 deputies on his first day, though a judge later reinstated them. He used Batman imagery in campaign ads and on social media and called himself “The Crime Fighter,” sometimes using a tank his office owned during raids.

He failed to win reelection in 2008 after his first term and was under indictment – accused of using his office for person gain – when voters returned him to office in 2012. He stood trial in that corruption case, and jurors acquitted him on all 27 charges.

He pleaded no contest in 2016 to a reckless conduct charge after he shot and injured a woman in a model home in Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta. Both he and the woman said the 2015 shooting was an accident that happened while they practiced police tactics.

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