Testimony from several witnesses, mostly former CCSO deputies, as well as photos showing a witness’ wrists cut from his skin through the subcutaneous fat layer and into his flesh, have been part of the federal government’s case against suspended Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill. Trial resumes today at 9:30 a.m. at the Richard B. Russell Federal Building in Atlanta.
Desmond Bailey, who had been cuffed and placed in a jailhouse restraint chair, testified that the cuffs had cut deep into his wrists and that he and another inmate, also in a chair, had screamed for help while jail staff walked past their cell. He said that later, on a trip to the fair with his daughter, he got onto a ride with similar restraints, began sweating profusely, and had to get off the ride. A nurse with Correct Health, the jail’s healthcare contractor, also testified that she had done follow-up treatment on Bailey’s wrists. When photos of his deep open wounds were published on the courtroom monitor for the jury to see, a woman in the back of the courtroom said, “Oh, my God.” Other photos showed large scars left on Bailey’s wrists.
Judge Eleanor Ross sent the jury home early Friday afternoon after both sides came to a point where they said they needed to do some legal research.
Federal prosecutors introduced video footage—some from security cameras in the Clayton County Jail, and one a deputy had taken with her cell phone—showing Hill ordering pretrial detainees into restraint chairs. They also placed into evidence copies of CCSO policies on the use of force in general, use of restraint chairs in particular, and training records that showed Hill had taken annual use of force classes required for Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training certification.
The Clayton Crescent will present in-depth recaps of each witness’ testimony, in the order in which they appear in court. As of Friday, Ross said, a dozen witnesses have testified.
Jackson worked for CCSO from February 2014 to October 2020, starting as a jailer and working his way up through SCIP (cleanup patrol), jail sergeant, and Scorpion Response Team (SRT) lieutenant to being one of two captains in charge of of the jail. Jackson reported directly to Maj. Eugene Peterkin, who reported to Hill. Jackson described SRT as “the SWAT team of the jail,” which required a separate application and testing process. He said he left in 2020 after being “accused of excessive overtime.” That was the year that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents had contacted him about Hill’s alleged illegal use of the chairs to punish pretrial detainees. He also testified that he had taken annual use of force training, that the use of force had to be justified, and that all use of force incidents had to be photographed and a written report from everyone involved made to command staff. According to Jackson, eight to ten chairs were used in the jail, and he was first trained on them in 2019.
After Joseph Arnold was arrested, Jackson said he went to the jail “when we learned [Hill] was coming to greet Mr. Arnold….because of what was on Nixle.” He testified that it was SRT’s job to meet Hill at the jailhouse door and escort him when he sought out pretrial detainees to speak with. Asked whether Hill “came to see people at the jail who made the news,” Jackson replied, “Yes.” He described a video in which Hill, Levon Allen, and several other CCSO officers surround Arnold while Hill “asked him what he was doing in the county, what happened in the [grocery] store, things of that nature.” After Arnold waved his left hand three times while talking to Hill, deputies cuffed him, but Jackson said Arnold, who he described as “a little bit mental,” had posed no threat.
In the video, deputies enter a holding cell and tell about a dozen pretrial detainees to face the wall. One deputy appears to strike one of the detainees. A few seconds later, former CCSO Chief of Staff Mitzi Bickers enters and leans on a glass partition outside the cell, watching. The video then moves to the intake area, where Hill can be seen and heard confronting Arnold. Hill asked Arnold, “What were you doing in Clayton County?” Arnold replied, “This is a democracy, sir, this is the United States.” Hill replied, “Not in my county it’s not.” After Arnold twice asks about his right to a speedy trial, Hill orders, “Roll that chair around here,” and Arnold is strapped in. According to Jackson, no one but Hill could approve a pretrial detainee’s release from the restraint chair.
“Did what happen bother you?” the prosecution asked.
“Yes,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t the normal circumstances that we were used to.”
Jackson also testified about Glenn Howell, the landscaper who got into a dispute with Lt. Josh Guthrie over payment for work Howell did at Guthrie’s Butts County home. Guthrie and Hill showed up at the jail after Howell and his attorney appeared for Howell to turn himself in. Hill, who had gotten into a back-and-forth by cellphone with Howell over the dispute, had sent members of the Fugitive Squad into Butts County to arrest Howell but they did not find him. Jackson said that, while Howell was upset about the harassing phone call charge, that was not unusual and that Howell never posed a threat that would require use of force. Over 50 minutes of jail security video (without audio) showed Howell being searched, then waiting in various places in the intake area. Hill eventually comes in, calls Howell out of a holding cell, waves at him, and begins talking. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Gray repeatedly stopped the video, asking Jackson whether Howell could be seen threatening himself or others or damaging property, which are criteria for putting a detainee into a restraint chair; Jackson repeatedly said “No, sir.” Jackson said he was not present when Howell was put into the chair.
He also testified that he did not write a use of force report for Arnold because “usually the intake supervisor writes the report.”
Defense attorney Marissa Goldberg asked whether there were civilian employees in the jail; Jackson said yes. Goldberg also asked whether jail staff needed to make sure that detainees in the “safety restraint chair” needed to be “put in properly so that the straps are not too tight and so it doesn’t cause any sort of problems for the person?” Jackson said yes. She also asked whether Nixle was “kind of a communication for the Sheriff’s Office to the Clayton County community….something that they do to keep members of the community up to date on certain incidents?”
On cross-examination, Jackson said Arnold was cuffed during Hill’s visit “based on their [SRT’s] discretion and the ton of the way things were going.” Part of the Arnold video was audio only, during which Hill can be heard saying, “Get him [Arnold] evaluated after he gets out of the chair.”
On redirect, Gray asked Jackson whether deputies involved in the holding cell disturbance moments before Hill met with Arnold had brought in a chair.
“No,” Jackson replied.
“And SRT left there to go where?” Gray asked.
“To Mr. Arnold,” Jackson said.
Jackson also testified that, when Hill ordered a use of force, the paperwork was “going to go right up [the chain of command]. Nobody’s going to question the sheriff.”