Suspended Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill’s federal trial on charges he allegedly used restraint chairs to punish pretrial detainees in the Clayton County Jail gets underway Wednesday, October 12.

Both federal prosecutors and Hill’s defense team have submitted proposed jury instructions for consideration.

The government

According to the government, a jury can find Hill guilty “only if all the following facts are proved beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) the Defendant deprived the named victim of the right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by law enforcement officers amounting to punishment; (2) the Defendant acted under color of state law; and (3) the Defendant willfully exceeded and misused or abused the Defendant’s authority under state law.”

The prosecution notes that “‘Liberty’ includes freedom from unlawful attack upon one’s person and the principle that no person may be physically assaulted, intimidated, or otherwise abused intentionally and without justification by a person acting under the color
of the laws of any state. To be deprived of liberty ‘without due process of law’ means to be deprived of liberty without legal authority.” In plain English, that means a badge does not give a sheriff or a deputy the right to punish someone awaiting trial by strapping them into a restraint chair used to prevent detainees from hurting themselves or others, because sheriffs and deputies are not judges—and only judges can mete out punishment after a conviction.

Federal prosecutors continued: “The constitutional right at issue here is the right, protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law, which includes the right of pretrial detainees such as Raheem Peterkin (Count One), Desmond Bailey (Count Two), Joseph Arnold (Count Three), Chryshon Hollins (Count Four), Joseph Harper (Count Five), Glenn Howell (Count Six), and Walter Thomas (Count Seven) to be free from the use of unreasonable force by law enforcement officers amounting to punishment.”

Punishment, the prosecution writes, is “force used against a pretrial detainee [that] is more severe than is necessary to subdue him or otherwise achieve a permissible government objective.” For example, “the need to preserve internal order and discipline and maintain institutional security…may at times require jail officers to use force,” but they cannot use force to get back at detainees or to scare them into compliance.

The second factor the government wants jurors to consider is whether Hill was acting under color of law: “A person acts under color of law if he is a public official or employee of a federal, state, or local government and he uses or abuses power he possesses because of his official position. If you find that the Defendant was the Sheriff of Clayton County, Georgia, and that he acted or gave the appearance of acting as the Sheriff when he committed the acts alleged in the Indictment, then you may find that he acted under color of law.”

The third factor is whether or not Hill acted “willfully” in any of these incidents, which the government says, “means that the act was committed voluntarily and purposely, with the intent to do something the law forbids; that is, with the bad purpose to disobey or disregard the law.” And it doesn’t matter whether Hill was “aware of the specific law or rule that is conduct may be violating,” they add, as long as he meant to use the restraint chair to punish the detainees.

In addition, on each count, the jury will have to decide unanimously whether Hill injured the detainees. That includes “any physical injury to the body, such as a cut,
abrasion, bruise, fracture, or disfigurement, and also includes physical pain. The
physical injury or pain need not be significant, severe, or permanent.” The prosecution does not have to prove that Hill meant to injure the detainees. They do need to prove that an injury, “no matter how slight,” resulted from “the offense in which [Hill] participated, and that such bodily injury was a natural and foreseeable result of the offense conduct.”

The defense

Hill’s attorneys want jurors to be instructed as to “good faith” and to consider whether Hill acted in good faith when he had the detainees strapped into restraint chairs.

“Good-Faith is a complete defense to the charges in the indictment since
good-faith on the part of the Defendant is inconsistent with willfulness, and
willfulness is an essential part of the charges,” the defense writes. “The burden of proof is not on the Defendant to prove good-faith intent because the Defendant does not need to
prove anything. The Government must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that
the Defendant acted willfully as charged.” In other words, Hill does not need to prove he is innocent; the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty.

The defense cautions, “Intent and motive must not be confused. ‘Motive’ is what prompts a person to act. It is why the person acts. ‘Intent’ refers to the state of mind with which the act is done. If you find beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant specifically intended to do something that is against the law and voluntarily committed the acts that make up the crime, then the element of ‘willfulness’ is satisfied, even if the Defendant believed that violating the law was required or that ultimate good would result.”

Hill’s lawyers also want the jury to consider character testimony as to whether Hill “is an honest and law-abiding citizen along with all the other evidence to decide whether the
Government has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant committed the offense.”

As to whether Hill deprived pretrial detainees of their civil rights, the defense writes, “Because these individuals had been arrested and were being held as detainees, they were lawfully deprived of many of the liberties with due process of law. Jail officials may use force in a good faith effort to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security. Not every use of force, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a courtroom, deprives a detainee of his constitutional rights. Law enforcement officers are to use force against a detainee as part of a good-faith effort to further legitimate correctional purposes, such as restoring order, preventing escape, or defending themselves and others. What violates the Constitution is force used against a detainee for no legitimate government purpose, such as force used for the purpose of retaliation, deterrence, or the malicious infliction of pain.”

The defense wants the jury to take into account:

  • “the policies and practices that in the judgment of jail officials are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security”
  • “the fact that corrections officials are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation”
  • “the need for the application of force”
  • “the relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force used”
  • the extent of the injuries to the inmate”
  • “the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates, as reasonably perceived by the responsible officials on the basis of facts known to them”
  • “any effort made by the officer to temper or limit the amount of force”
  • “You must also give a wide range of deference to prison officials acting to preserve discipline and security.”

The defense writes that CCSO’s Use of Force policy will be introduced into evidence, but wants the jury to know that Hill “is not charged in this case with violating any policy of the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office. Instead, he is charged with the offense of deprivation of a constitutional right. Even if you believe that Mr. Hill acted in contravention of one or more of the policies, that alone would not make him guilty of deprivation of…constitutional rights. The issue is whether or not the government has proven each of the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Hill’s attorney’s also want the judge to instruct jurors that they have to determine whether any transcripts of recorded conversations “correctly reflects the content of the conversation [or the identity of the speakers],” adding, “If you determine that the transcript is in any respect incorrect or unreliable, you should disregard it to that extent.”

The Clayton Crescent will be covering the trial, which is expected to last between two and two and a half weeks.

Related coverage

[ed. note: “Kemp” refers to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who is not related to The Clayton Crescent’s editor, Robin Kemp]

Sept. 29, 2022: “Actions, not intent, focus of Hill trial”

Sept. 12, 2022: “Update on U.S. v. Hill”

Aug. 17, 2022: “Attorneys in Hill trial turn in wish lists”

Aug. 1, 2022: “FBI searches Hill’s office again as new federal case filed”

June 22, 2022: “Hill’s federal restraint chair trial pushed back to October 12”

May 9, 2022: “Hill v. Kemp appeal brief filed”

July 30, 2o21: “BREAKING: Hill faces superseding federal indictment”

June 3, 2021: “What’s next for Sheriff Hill?”

June 2, 2021: “BREAKING: Kemp suspends Hill as Clayton sheriff”

April 27, 2021: “BREAKING: Victor Hill faces federal indictment over alleged restraint chair abuse”

June 10, 2020: “BREAKING: FBI raids CCSO”

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Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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