Parker: “The sheriff’s office doesn’t comment to the press”
by Robin Kemp
Clayton County District Attorney Tasha Mosley says she is not prosecuting Sheriff Victor Hill, as claimed in a post that Hill’s legal advisor posted to social media channels Wednesday.
In a post to Nixle, Hill’s preferred method of communicating with the public, Alan Parker ascribed this year’s violent crime increase to Hill’s suspension while under federal indictment, then accused the U.S. Department of Justice and Mosley of persecuting the sheriff.
Parker’s post came out December 29, the same day a federal judge turned down Hill’s request to dismiss the case and ordered it to proceed to trial.
In a statement released by her office, Mosley said, “My administration has not sought any indictment against Sheriff Victor Hill.”
A federal grand jury indicted Hill on April 19 on four counts of deprivation of rights charges under color of law. The suit alleges Hill subjected four pretrial detainees, including a 17-year-old and a contractor who had gotten into a dispute with a CCSO deputy over work at the deputy’s home, to extended periods of time in jail restraint chairs as a form of punishment. The chairs are only to be used to protect detainees from injuring themselves or others. Hill has pleaded not guilty. If Hill were to be found guilty on all four counts, he could face up to 40 years in federal prison. In April, Hill said (through Nixle) the charges politically motivated.
A statement signed by Parker on Nixle that also was posted to Hill’s Twitter and Facebook accounts reads in part, “After a lower court decision, Sheriff Hill’s suspension by the Governor is now being appealed to get him back to work. The Findling law firm who is representing Hill in the criminal case is ready to go to trial to get him acquitted and is actively seeking a court date. Sheriff Victor Hill is notably the first and only law-enforcement official in the country criminally charged with using his discretion to restrain violent offenders. Others throughout the nation (with the most notable being Gwinnett County) have restrained and assaulted prisoners while only facing civil lawsuits at best.”
It continues, “As a result of this malicious and politically motivated prosecution of Sheriff Hill by the Clayton County DA’s Office and the DOJ, it is has [sic] been observed that law-enforcement in Clayton County has been less pro-active about pursuing criminals fearing that they could be prosecuted for doing their jobs as well.”
In response, Mosley’s office issued a press release denying Parker’s claim:
“It has come to our attention that a communication released on December 29, 2021 by Attorney Alan Parker, Clayton County Sheriff’s Office Legal Advisor, states that the District Attorney’s (DA) Office of Clayton County is prosecuting Sheriff Victor Hill. That is an incorrect statement. The Clayton County DA’s office is not prosecuting Sheriff Hill. The federal case is being prosecuted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) through the United States Attorney’s Office Northern District of Georgia based on an indictment returned by a federal grand jury.”
The Clayton Crescent reached Parker by phone Thursday evening and asked whether his statement about the DA’s office had just been a mistake.
“As you know, the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t comment to the press,” Parker said. “That’s a longstanding policy of ten years.”
Asked whether he personally wanted to comment because he had made the claim that Mosley’s office was engaged in a “malicious and politically motivated prosecution of Sheriff Hill,” Parker replied, “I can’t because I work for the sheriff and that’s his policy.”
However, the Sheriff’s Department does do some interviews.
On April 29, Lt. Josh Guthrie did an interview with WAOK’s Rashad Richey. One of the charges in the indictment against Hill involves a landscaper, Glen Howell, who got into a dispute with Guthrie over a job at Guthrie’s house, and who was later put into a restraint chair at the jail. Hill allegedly had made threatening video calls to the landscaper. In May, the county settled a lawsuit for $300,000 with a woman who had been a passenger in a car that was T-boned by another car during a high-speed chase by Guthrie. The driver was killed.
Parker and attorney Matt Tucker sent a letter to Kemp on September 29, noting that the statute under which Kemp had suspended Hill had a time limit for prosecution that had expired, and asking that Hill be fully reinstated. Kemp had suspended Hill on June 2 over the restraint chair indictment, following a recommendation by a three-member review commission.
Under Georgia law, the governor “may suspend the public officer [under federal indictment] from office immediately and without further action pending the final disposition of the case or until the expiration of his term of office, whichever occurs first. During the term of office to which such officer was elected and in which the indictment occurred, if a nolle prosequi is entered, if the public official is acquitted, or if after conviction the conviction is later overturned as a result of any direct appeal or application for a writ of certiorari, the public official shall be immediately reinstated to the office from which he was suspended. While a public official is suspended under this Code section and until initial conviction by the trial court, the public official shall continue to receive the compensation from his office. After initial conviction by the trial court, the public official shall not be entitled to receive the compensation from his office. If the public official is reinstated to office, he shall be entitled to receive any compensation withheld under the provisions of this Code section.”
Parker’s Nixle post referred to another subsection of the law, (i), which reads in part, “If a public official who is suspended from office under the provisions of this Code section is not first tried at the next regular or special term following the indictment, the suspension shall be terminated and the public official shall be reinstated to office.”
The subsection continues, “The public official shall not be reinstated under this subsection if he is not so tried based on a continuance granted upon a motion made only by the defendant.”
Hill’s motion to dismiss was denied Dec. 29 and the case was ordered to go to trial.
Correlation does not equal causation
Parker’s periodic posts to social media often portray Hill as a victim of political enemies and the press. Hill’s supporters call for “Batman” to be reinstated and say they’re afraid that criminals will take over Clayton County otherwise.
Parker did not offer any evidence to support another claim that Clayton County law enforcement officials have chosen to give criminal suspects a pass out of fear of being sued.
On the same day as Parker’s post, Clayton County Police had released statistics showing an increase in violent crime for 2021, which CCPD ascribed to increased family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic: “64% of the 2021 Aggravated Assaults were committed during Family Violence incidents. Chief K[evin] Roberts maintains that we must work toward ‘conflict resolution without firearms or any other weapons’ in our communities. We must work together to reduce fear and anxiety which has rippled across the community during the pandemic.”
Many families have experienced increased stress during the pandemic for several reasons, including quarantines, loss of income, and having to supervise children who are learning online.
But Hill’s supporters on social media ascribe the increase in crime to Hill’s suspension, claiming his strongman “tactics” scare criminals away from Clayton County.
Clayton County or municipal police respond to most 911 calls for law enforcement. CCSO, which has a $34 million budget, runs the jail, maintains order in the courthouse, and serves eviction notices and warrants issued by judges. CCSO has a special unit (COBRA) for serving warrants on fugitives, as well as the Blackhawks for traffic detail, a vice unit, and agents for “Special Assignment/Federal Task Force” duties.
But it’s the jail, and the supposed fear that criminals have of winding up in “the Hill-ton,” that many of Hill’s supporters say keeps crime down.
The department’s website, claytonsheriff.com, goes into some detail about CCSO’s functions and personnel but was down as of press time and was down on November 29, according to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. CCSO’s less-detailed page on the county website was functional.
Indicted but in charge of law and order
Another CCSO employee under indictment is Chief of Staff Mitzi Bickers, who has run Hill’s political campaigns and whose requests to exclude evidence in her own federal corruption case were denied on December 27. Hill gave Bickers a job as a chaplain at CCSO after she resigned from the City of Atlanta in 2013 for not disclosing her outside political consulting income under city ethics rules.
In July, The Clayton Crescent reported that Bickers’s salary has gone from $37,708 in 2016 to pay grade 27. Fox 5 Atlanta’s Dale Russell reported in November that, at last check, Bickers’ salary was more than $130,000, according to CCSO records.That means Clayton County taxpayers invest about $66.67 per hour in Bickers’ services at CCSO. Bickers is not POST-certified.
By comparison, county code fixes the sheriff’s salary at $54,600 as “full and complete compensation; and all fees or other emoluments now allowed, or hereafter allowed by any authority of law, shall be construed to be county funds and accountable as such. Any funds, except the salaries provided for in this section, which are collected by such officers under the color of their offices shall be construed to be county funds and accountable as such.” The sheriff is eligible for up to a 5% per year increase, if a grand jury okays it. A grand jury also can cut or raise the salary, but only after a sheriff leaves office.
At last check, Hill was making about $150,000 per year, according to Chairman Jeff Turner. Turner told the AJC’s Leon Stafford in June that the county is still paying Hill’s salary during the suspension, and is paying another $150,000 salary to Chief Deputy Roland Boehrer, who is handling Hill’s official duties.
Bickers has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of bribery, money laundering, wire fraud, witness or informant tampering, and filing false tax returns. On Monday, Judge Steve C. Jones ruled that the court will not exclude from Bickers’ trial:
- evidence “concerning Pirouette and dancers who allegedly performed at fundraising events”
- evidence about Bickers’ “wealth, expenditures, and spending habits”
- testimony from Bickers’ “former romantic partners”
- “all potentially negative references” to Emmanuel Baptist Church, where Bickers serves as pastor
- evidence “relating to her relationship with [former Atlanta Mayor Kasim] Reed”
- (granted in part and denied in part) Evidence of prior litigation (“The Government shall not offer evidence concerning prior civil litigation involving Defendant unless that civil litigation relates to the charges in this criminal action. However, if an otherwise unrelated prior civil litigation becomes relevant for impeachment or other admissible rebuttal purposes, the Court may consider allowing the Government to offer evidence as to those cases. Additionally, the Government may offer evidence of prior civil litigation that has a reasonable nexus to the charges in this criminal action.”)
- trial testimony from Theo Tate, who the government argues “has personal knowledge of what he observed during those trips, which includes observations that relate to Defendant’s scheme to bribe Jackson officials,” allegedly while Tate acted as a limousine driver for Bickers
- evidence of “the City of Atlanta Code of Ethics and Procurement Code and Defendants compliance with those codes”
- evidence “concerning fundraising and similar events that were not directly discussed in the indictment”
- evidence about “bidding procedures and processes” for the City of Jackson, MS, “in which Defendant was not directly involved” (“At this time, the Court does not have enough evidence to determine with finality whether allegations as to the satisfaction of [former Jackson, MS Mayor Tony] Yarber‘s home mortgage are speculative or irrelevant to this criminal action. In any event, the Government stated clearly that it does not intend to introduce evidence relating to Yarber’s home mortgage. Accordingly, at this time, Defendant’s request to exclude this evidence is DENIED as moot.”)
- evidence about Bickers’ campaign contributions
- “remarks that are generally disparaging to Defendant’s character and claims of other alleged impropriety not properly noticed by the Government”
Although Bickers is a high-level appointee of the sheriff’s department, she is neither an elected official nor a Georgia POST-certified officer with arrest powers. Unless Hill, Boehrer, or any other ranking CCSO official had cause to demote, suspend, or terminate Bickers for on-the-job conduct, and unless the county Civil Service Board upheld such an action, Bickers could stay at CCSO indefinitely–or, should a jury find her guilty, until she were convicted in the federal corruption case.
Follow filings in United States v. Hill at https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/59855735/united-states-v-hill/.
Follow filings in United States v. Bickers at https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/16406410/united-states-v-bickers/