Federal prosecutors say they have recordings and testimony showing that Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill “confronted and questioned at least six of the seven victims, about the circumstances of their alleged crimes, either immediately before he placed them in restraint chairs or while they were strapped down,” as well as “video footage, demonstrating that the victims were not actively resisting at the time of their arrests or during their transport to the Jail.”
Federal prosecutors say they also plan to offer evidence that Hill allegedly “texted with his girlfriend, who is also a law enforcement officer, to let her know the Jail was expecting one of the victims who had given her trouble in the past and to show her a video in which the victim was strapped into a restraint chair while he (Hill) was lecturing the victim.”
Hill is scheduled to stand trial October 12 in the U.S. Northern District of Georgia. He faces seven criminal counts of depriving pretrial detainees in the Clayton County Jail of their civil rights under color of law. If convicted on all counts, Hill could face 10 to 70 years in federal prison, depending on whether he were sentenced to serve concurrently or consecutively.
Lines of questioning
A proposed verdict sheet filed August 20 in the Northern District of Georgia gives a look at what a federal jury would be asked to deliberate in Hill’s pending criminal case. Other records also show the issues that both sides are wrangling over presenting to a jury.
Hill’s attorneys also filed a response to the government’s motion in limine, arguing that federal prosecutors are trying to keep Hill from introducing evidence that “probes whether he acted for the purpose of depriving the alleged victims of their constitutional rights and whether he believed there was a legitimate law enforcement objective in his use of the restraint chair.”
The government says Hill wants to block it from offering seven categories of evidence:
- unrelated use of force incidents at the jail by other CCSO employees
- jail conditions and confinement procedures
- Hill’s other lawsuits, indictments, and suspensions
- “Hill’s retaliation against employees that raised concerns”
- “obstruction of the government’s investigation”
- “the legality of the arrests of the victims in this case or the strength of the cases against them”
- “Hill’s relationships with potential fact witnesses and Hill’s interest in Batman and associated symbols”
But the government said it has no intentions of bringing up the lawsuits or previous indictments, and that “the government itself” made a motion in limine to exclude the suspension, as well as any impact it “has allegedly affected the community….However, the government plans to call a number of current and former CCSO employees, and Hill’s suspension from office is a significant point in the timeline of their employment that may be inextricably intertwined with their explanation of their work at the Jail. While the government is happy to instruct its witnesses not to discuss the suspension proceedings themselves or suggest any negative findings associated with those proceedings, the Government should not be placed at risk of violating this Court’s order if a witness inadvertently mentions the suspension or merely notes the fact that Hill stopped being in command of the jail after his suspension in June 2021.”
The government says it “does not intend to introduce evidence of unrelated uses of force by other employees at the jail.” Instead, it says it “may introduce evidence of other uses of force that are intrinsic to the charged offenses. For instance, the government intends to introduce evidence that after Hill ordered one victim strapped in the restraint chair for no permissible purpose, another guard struck the victim in the face.” The government says this evidence is necessary to show “why the victim had blood on his clothes in his mugshot and why guards placed a smock over his clothes before taking the picture of him that accompanies the use-of-force report about Hill ordering him into the restraint chair.”
Evidence about how Hill runs the Clayton County Jail—including things like Nutraloaf, paper gowns, and “needless mental health assessments”—also is relevant, the government says. Because Hill used those items “without justification” in tandem with the restraint chairs, the government says that “suggests he intended to impermissibly punish the victims,” which is forbidden by law in the pretrial phase. If Hill “intended to impermissibly punish the victims by putting them in the restraint chair,” the government says, that “would establish that Hill acted willfully.”
The defense says Hill “believed his use of the restraint chair was necessary to maintain order in the jail” and that he “should be allowed to present evidence of the alleged victims’ prior conduct to the extent it informed his assessment of their threat level.” As an example, Hill’s attorneys pointed to “J.H., who…had a history of malingering in an attempt to escape from custody. Sheriff Hill should be allowed to explain to the jury why he might have considered J.H. a flight risk and why the restraint chair was warranted in his view.”
The government also wants to introduce evidence about “the way deputies are uniformed and equipped, the techniques and procedures different units use, and the decisions to utilize particular units.” The government points out that two factors in determining whether a certain use of force is unreasonable are “the severity of the security problem at issue [and] the threat reasonably perceived by the officer.” Because Hill was “surrounded by a specialized team of deputies that were uniquely uniformed, trained, and equipped” but allegedly “placed non-resisting victims in restraint chairs” anyway, the government says that “demonstrates that there was no security problem at issue and no threat perceived by Hill.”
“Go f–k yourself”
In particular, the government points out “Hill’s decision to send a heavily armed fugitive squad after one of the victims,” Glenn Howell, the landscaper who got into a dispute with a deputy, Lt. Josh Guthrie, over some yard work and who told Hill “you can go f–k yourself” after Hill allegedly had repeatedly called, Facetimed, and texted him.
“Hill then sent a heavily armed fugitive squad into a nearby county on multiple days to search for the victim and arrest him on the misdemeanor warrant,” the government notes. “After the victim subsequently turned himself in peacefully, Hill met him at the Jail and immediately ordered him into a restraint chair.” Even though the man “posed no suicide risk,” the government argues, Hill ordered him placed on suicide watch with a paper gown and three days of Nutraloaf.
The defense argues that Hill “should be allowed to present evidence of bias, motive, and good or bad character”—specifically, he should be able to show whether any witness is a political enemy. “If a witness testifies who has a particular bias towards the Sheriff based on a political or otherwise personal motive or interest, that is certainly proper under the Federal Rules of Evidence,” the defense wrote. “Similarly, if the good or bad character of a witness is appropriate and allowable under the Rules, the Sheriff should not be prevented from offering legitimate and probative evidence. The good character and/or good acts of Sheriff Hill should be allowed at such time if they are appropriate and relevant to the proceedings.”
Fear of retaliation
But the government argues that “evidence of retaliation against employees is relevant both to whether Hill’s uses of force were objectively unreasonable and to whether he acted willfully.” Noting that Hill wants to prevent “testimony that he fostered an environment of retaliation and fired employees who raised concerns,” as well as “how Hill reacted when he learned employees were speaking with the federal government as part of this investigation,” the government says it “expects multiple CCSO employees to testify that they were concerned about inappropriate uses of force at the Jail, including Hill’s use of the restraint chair without justification, and would have objected but for their feat that they would suffer retaliation if they voiced their concerns….[I]f Hill fired employees that raised concerns or reacted negatively when he learned employees were speaking with the federal government about his use of the restraint chair, such evidence supports an inference that he willfully violated the law.”
As a result, the government says, “Hill’s retaliation against employees that raised concerns and his negative reaction to those that later cooperated with the government’s investigation has had a chilling effect on potential witnesses’ willingness to testify against him. Not only do current employees fear negative employment consequences, but even former employees fear that Hill will seek to ruin their careers or otherwise harm them.” Hill’s omnipresent Batman logo is part of that atmosphere, the government argues, “intertwined with his leadership of the CCSO and the Jail and the environment of retaliation he fostered there.”
The government alleges that missing documents, the mention of which Hill seeks to block, also point to willfulness. A jury could conclude that “Hill or the CCSO engaged in an effort to hide evidence or not cooperate with government investigators….[E]vidence that documents related to uses of force either were not created or were not provided in response to subpoenas supports an inference that Hill acted willfully.” Although CCSO’s policy at the time was that everyone involved in a use of force had to file a report, “many items were not provided” when the government subpoenaed it.
Hill requested a joint motion to give prospective jurors a questionnaire, noting the case’s high profile: “This case has received a fair amount of media coverage since its inception. It is likely that some individuals in the potential juror pool will have prior knowledge of the allegations and individuals associated with the case.”
Both sides would have the chance to object to possible questions they don’t want included.