Moderated by Rick Badie
In November, Clayton County voters re-elected Victor Hill as sheriff with more than 70 percent of the vote, even though he faces 32 felony charges. Today, the president of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association explains why his group doesn’t want the sheriff-elect to take office until the criminal case is resolved. A state representative for Clayton County explains why the embattled official first deserves the right to prove his innocence.
Hill deserves right to prove innocence
By Darryl Jordan
Clayton County Sheriff-elect Victor Hill is a man who has admitted to the voters of Clayton County that he has made some mistakes in the past, when he was in office the first time. , and t Clayton County voters apparently have forgiven any past mistakes, because they elected him overwhelmingly in both the Democratic primary and general elections.
Now, the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association apparently wants to hijack the expressed desire of the Clayton County voters by keeping Hill him from taking office in January. This sets a bad precedent, not just for Hill, but for all people who are falsely accused of crimes and are tarred and feathered by the media, and by those who want to jump the gun on the criminal justice process before any trial has taken place and before the blind lady of justice has adjudicated the case.
A person is presumed innocent until he is convicted by a jury of his peers, not by a non-elected association or by some gnostic, elite and effete group of individuals in Georgia. Though not many of our good-hearted citizens of Clayton County hail from some special club, they do, however, enjoy their rights under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. To remove Hill from office for indictments which seem to be dubious at best, and which are slated soon to go to trial before a jury of his Clayton County peers, seems to me to be a not-so-subtle attempt to circumvent the will of the voters.
In 2007, Clinch County Sheriff Winston Peterson was indicted on several accounts; he remained in office all during the indictment. When he was tried by a jury of his peers in federal court, he was found not guilty on all charges. Hill should be afforded the same treatment.
The potential Clayton County jury pool should not be poisoned by the media fanfare which would ensue if he were not allowed to take office and to serve while the inexorable wheels of justice have time to roll forward. Aborted justice is no justice.
When certain people can’t get their wishes at the voting booths, they then employ raw, unmitigated and egregious attacks on the Voting Rights Act. This is unconscionable. The people of Clayton County are tired of this shabby and condescending treatment from people who would not deign to eat or shop in Clayton County, and people who can hardly utter the name “Clayton County” without sneering or choking. We know clearly who we elected as sheriff.
We should simply let the hands of justice work itself out. Hill will be tried before a jury of his peers. If he is convicted, then he will be removed from office. But if he is found not guilty, then he will continue to serve, just like Sheriff Peterson of Clinch County.
If judging Hill before adjudication can happen to him, then it could happen to any Georgia citizen. This is why we cherish the United States Constitution. It protects the people against mob action.
State Rep. Darryl Jordan represents House District 77.
Office more important than office holder
By Howard R. Sills
In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The office of sheriff is the most important of all the executive offices of the county.” In 1942, the Georgia Supreme Court said, “The office of sheriff carries with it the duty to preserve the peace and protect the lives, persons, property, health, and morals of the people.”
No other entity of Georgia government is more connected to the myriad of agencies, departments and courts than the sheriff’s office. It is the original and essential element for the protection of the public.
The core mission of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association (GSA) is to ensure the integrity of this office. In regard to Sheriff-elect Victor Hill, it appears that this is the first time in modern history that anyone has ever been elected sheriff in Georgia while under indictment for felony crimes. The publicity surrounding Hill has resulted in the GSA being contacted repeatedly by a plethora of media outlets seeking information related to his election since he won the Democratic Primary in July.
Forty-four years ago, our General Assembly passed legislation (O.C.G.A. §15-16-26) wherein the governor may appoint a commission consisting of two sheriffs and the attorney general to investigate a sheriff for criminal charges, alleged misconduct or incapacity to perform the duties of the office. The GSA sought and supported enactment of that law.
In 1984, our Legislature enacted a law (O.C.G.A. §45-5-6) which prescribes that, upon the indictment of any public official for a felony crime, the governor shall appoint a commission consisting of the attorney general and two like officials to determine if the indictment adversely affects administration of the office of the indicted public official and whether the rights and interest of the public are adversely affected. If the commission makes such a determination, it shall recommend to the governor that the public official be suspended from office.
In cases where a commission recommends suspension, the governor may suspend the official until the final disposition of the case. This statute also allows for an indicted public official to voluntarily ask the governor to be suspended until the case is resolved. The public official would continue to receive his salary during the suspension period.
Our association’s board of directors voted unanimously to ask Gov. Nathan Neal to appoint the commission required by law, and if the commission recommended Hill’s suspension, that he be suspended. We also asked the governor to consider appointing retired Clayton County Sheriff Bill Lemacks as acting sheriff for the suspension period, if he were able to make such an appointment.
Hill’s certification as a peace officer is suspended. He has no arrest power. He cannot even participate in the execution of a search warrant. How can an individual conceivably act as the chief law enforcement officer of an entire community after having been divested of the primal element of the office itself? The GSA has always maintained a very proactive stance regarding alleged misconduct and/or criminal activity of sheriffs.
Our request to Gov. Deal related to Hill marks the sixth such request we have made in the last two years. On three separate occasions, we made such requests regarding former Wilcox County Sheriff Stacy Bloodsworthcq, and twice in connection with the late Talbot County Sheriff Herman Howardcq. Bloodsworth resigned five days after his indictment for federal civil rights crimes; Howard died while still under investigation.
The people of Clayton County are entitled to have the person they elect hold the office of sheriff, but only if that person can legally perform the duties of said office. I hold the office I hold far more important than me holding the office!
Putnam County Sheriff Howard R. Sills is president of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association.