Jurors in suspended Sheriff Victor Hill’s federal trial heard testimony Monday from FBI agents who raided Hill’s office and from two pretrial detainees who Sheriff Victor Hill ordered to be strapped into restraint chairs. One of the victims named in the indictment had just turned 17 about a week before he was arrested and taken directly to the jail’s restraint chair.
Because the youth was 17 at the time and is in high school, The Clayton Crescent is not naming him. Under Georgia law, 17-year-olds who are charged with a crime are jailed, tried, and sentenced as adults. Children as young as 13 who are accused of some violent crimes may still be charged as adults. Activists are trying to get legislation passed to raise the age for adult criminal charges to 18. Georgia is one of three states that still charge as adults children under 18 who face criminal charges.
The youth’s mother sat on a hard courtroom bench, rocking forward and backward in distress as her son, now 19 and making As and Bs as a college-bound senior, told the jury what had happened to him in April 2020. He had been diagnosed with mental illness and was the oldest of several children in the home. One night, he flew into a rage because the wireless was not working and he couldn’t play his online games. He smashed his mother’s furniture and front window, tossed all the food out of the refrigerator, and scattered garbage across the street from their lawn to the neighbors’. When his mother called police, he ran off. A Clayton County Sheriff’s deputy held the youth at gunpoint, while a Clayton County Police officer took him into custody. The youth’s mother covered her face with her hands and rocked when a photo of her son in the back of a police car was published on the video screen.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Gray said of the youth’s mugshot, “It looks like you may have grown some since that photo was taken?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied.
He admitted he was “arrested for messing up my mother’s house” and that he had been “acting out because I was upset about the wi-fi.”
“Are you proud of what you did that night?” Gray asked.
“No, sir,” he said.
He said he didn’t know his mother had called the police. “I walked down the street and saw the police so I started to run to my neighbor’s backyard.” He said he put his hands up because he “saw a flash” and didn’t know what would happen. He got down on the ground and was arrested without resisting. “I was quiet because it was my first time. I didn’t really know what was going to happen….I cried because it was my first time. I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I cried because I was scared and I’d never been in jail before.”
Meanwhile, as Special Agent Candace Hunter of the FBI’s Computer Analysis Response Team would testify later, Hill’s godson, Levon Allen, was texting Hill photos and cellphone video of the damage the youth had done.
“How old is he?” Hill texted Allen.
“17,” Allen responded.
“Chair,” Hill replied at 11:25 p.m.
Allen texted Hill the youth’s name and date of birth. Ten minutes later, Allen snapped the photo of the youth, hands cuffed behind him, in the back seat of a patrol car.
“Yeah, they was hurting my wrists,” the youth said.
Gray asked whether the youth knew his photo was being sent to Hill. “No, sir.”
And he said he didn’t know anything about Hill.
The CCPD officer drove him to a sector to fill out paperwork and left him in the back seat, where he “just sat in the car and cried. Because I was going to jail and I was scared.” Another man was put into the back seat but they did not speak to each other. When they got to the jail, he said, “I was following the officer because I didn’t know what to do. As soon as I got into the jail, they put me in the restraint chair. As soon as they put me in the restraint chair, they took me to a room,” where, he said, he was held for “four or five hours” and was told “I had to use the bathroom in the chair.” He testified he had not done any of the things that, under CCSO policy, would have merited time in the restraint chair: “I was being nice. I wasn’t breaking any rules.”
He said he was strapped in at the legs, hip, torso, arms, and shoulders. “It didn’t feel good. It really felt like torture. My wrist was hurting. I didn’t even get dressed out, I still had my clothes. I didn’t want to use the restroom on myself.” And he didn’t.
“Did it hurt?” Gray asked.
“Did it feel worse as time went on?”
“And mentally, too, I did, yes,” he said. “Which I told you, I felt like I was being tortured, I wasn’t acting out and I was being nice.” And he said he cried.
When he was let out of the chair, he got a uniform, was booked, and put into a cell with another man. He fell asleep for about an hour; in the chair, he said he “kept waking up and falling asleep; it was uncomfortable the whole time.”
Then, a person he described as a “trainee” woke him and took him to the “main office,” the booking area. “I thought I was fixing to go home. I didn’t really know how it works,” he said.
Hill was there, “with about six other officers standing right next to another chair.” Even so, “I didn’t really think much about it because I was new to all this. I was so young.”
The officers “was like six feet tall, they was all swole, and you could tell they were not like other officers.” On their uniform was “maybe like a scorpion or something like that”—the logo of the Scorpion Response Team, or SRT, which is the unit that breaks up fights in the jail and escorts Hill when he wants to meet with a detainee. They ordered him into the second chair.
He wondered, “Why am I getting put in the chair again? And I learned I got put in the chair basically for disrespecting my mom.”
“Who said that?” Gray asked.
The second time, he was strapped in with his arms behind his back.
“Did that hurt more?” Gray asked.
“Yes, it definitely did,” he said. “That also felt like torture….I really couldn’t more this time. He was bound at the “ankle, mid-leg, hip, back, torso, shoulders. I couldn’t move my body or shoulders at all.”
Neither time had the youth resisted, threatened anyone, or acted out.
“I didn’t even know he was the sheriff.”
“Do you see the person who ordered you strapped into the chair [in court] today?” Gray asked.
“Is it Sheriff Victor Hill?”
Hill sat expressionless throughout nearly all of Monday’s testimony, sometimes holding his chin and covering his mouth with his hand.
This time, the youth said, he was wheeled into a room with another man in a chair. That man had urinated on himself. “I had to push myself away from another grown man’s pee,” he said. The youth used his toes “to keep pushing myself with the little grip I had with my feet.”
He said he never did anything wrong in the jail and that the only reason he was put in the chair a second time was for “disrespecting my mom.”
He was in the chair for more than 10 hours. The chair’s manufacturer recommends no more than two hours and Hill’s own written policy states no more than four hours.
But, he said, Hill pulled out his cell phone, began shooting video, and told the man in the other chair “that he needed to do better. When he put his phone down, he told me if I ever mess up my mother’s house again, he would put me in the chair for 16 hours.”
The youth said he had marks on his wrists and ankles, even after he got out of jail and showed his mother.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Marissa Goldberg asked, “That was a rough night for you?”
“Yes,” he said.
Goldberg asked how many “babies” were in his house. He said “Five.” She said the youth had been “pulling out all the food and taking food away from your brothers and sisters.”
She also said the police had been there earlier that day and, instead of arresting him, had given him a second chance. “You know that, at 17, you’re considered an adult in Georgia?”
“No, I did not know that at the time,” he replied.
“Nobody was physically forcing you into the chair. You said that,” Goldberg said, adding, “Hill was not there when you were first placed in the restraint chair….Sheriff Hill wasn’t there with you the whole four hours.”
On redirect, Gray asked, “What are your siblings’ ages?”
“Three, five, and nine,” he said.
The youth said he was “forced not to be able to move around like you usually be…the straps be too tight, you’re forced to use the restroom on yourself.”
“Did you go into the chair ‘willingly’ for over ten hours?” Gray asked.
“No,” the youth said emphatically. “I had to. They made me.”
Read about Georgia Voices for Children’s campaign to raise the age at which teens accused of committing crimes may be charged as adults. According to the group’s website, “Responding to a 17-year-old’s misbehavior in developmentally appropriate ways can reduce the likelihood that the child will commit offenses as an adult.”