Feds accuse Georgia sheriff of using restraint chairs to punish detainees

People who posed no threat and complied with deputies were strapped to restraint chairs for hours, according to an indictment. One was 17 at the time.

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An Atlanta-area sheriff who’s no stranger to controversy is accused of violating the civil rights of several people in his agency’s custody by ordering that they be unnecessarily strapped into a restraint chair and left there for hours, according to a federal indictment.

The indictment against Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill was filed April 19 and was unsealed by a federal judge Monday. It says Hill regularly received training that said force may not be used as punishment and had approved a policy that says a restraint chair may be used with a violent or uncontrollable person to prevent injury or property damage if other techniques are ineffective.

The policy emphasizes that the restraint chair “will never be authorized as a form of punishment.”

But the indictment, which accuses Hill of violating the civil rights of four people in his custody, says the sheriff repeatedly ordered people restrained for hours even though they posed no threat and had complied with deputies and that the men suffered pain and bodily injury as a result.

“Sheriff Hill’s abuse of power not only harmed the victims as I have described, but they erode the trust that the community places in law enforcement and the work that it does,” Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine told reporters.

Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill, left, is flanked by a member of his legal team, attorney Rolf Jones, right, as he speaks on Jan. 11, 2005, in Jonesboro, Ga.

Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill, left, is flanked by a member of his legal team, attorney Rolf Jones, right, as he speaks on Jan. 11, 2005, in Jonesboro, Ga.Gene Blythe / AP file

In a statement released Tuesday, Hill called the prosecution “a political motivated federal legal case.”

“I will continue to focus on the mission of fighting crime in Clayton County for continued success,” Hill said in the statement on Nixle, a public messaging system.

Drew Findling, one of Hill’s lawyers, said they have been aware of the federal investigation and have done their own investigation and that those four allegations “do not involve any physical injury at all.” Findling said Hill is “a beloved sheriff who is overwhelmingly supported by his community” and called the case against him “nonsensical.”

Hill was released on bond Tuesday, Findling said.

Georgia law provides for the governor to convene a three-person panel to consider the suspension of elected officials who are indicted while in office. Cody Hall, a spokesman for Gov. Brian Kemp, said in an email that they have not received the indictment yet and declined to comment on what action the governor might take.

On Hill’s orders, deputies unnecessarily and unreasonably strapped four people into a restraining chair for hours, the indictment says.

One man was arrested without incident in February 2020 on charges stemming from an argument with two women at a grocery store three weeks earlier. Hill confronted the man during booking, asking what he had been doing in Clayton County, the indictment says.

“It’s a democracy, sir. It’s the United States,” the man replied, according to the indictment.

“No, it’s not. Not in my county,” Hill responded.

A 17-year-old boy accused of vandalizing his family home during an argument with his mother in April 2020 was arrested by a deputy without incident a short time later. The deputy spoke with Hill and texted him a photo of the teen in a police car.

“How old is he?” Hill texted, according to the indictment.