CORRECTION: Photo of CCSO Chaplain Charles Davis was incorrectly ID’d as CCSO Social Media Manager Carl Johnson.
The only question Victor Hill had after hearing his sentence to 18 months in a federal prison for violating the rights of six pretrial detainees under color of law was whether he could “[support] a political candidate.”
Hill asked the question of Judge Eleanor Ross after she had given a detailed explanation of the factors that went into determining Hill’s sentence and imposed special conditions—which included Ross’ explicit prohibition of Hill being hired as a civilian “consultant” by CCSO down the road.
In her sentencing remarks, Ross called Hill’s behavior “arrogant” and that he needed to “sit down” and think about what had transpired.
Hill remains free until he is assigned to a facility by the Bureau of Prisons.
Defense: “Simply the act of restraint”
Hill’s defense attorney, Marissa Goldberg, argued that the federal sentencing guideline’s preliminary calculation, which advised that Hill be sentenced to between 46 and 57 months behind bars, unfairly double-counted the restraint offense.
“This offense was simply the act of restraint—there was nothing else here,” Goldberg said. “I believe because the jury had to find restraint to convict Mr. Hill, this would constitute double-counting.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bret Hobson countered, “That’s not true. The entire offense on at least two counts was restraint: factors: one was false arrest, and the other was moving [a detainee] to another cell. That doesn’t make it an element of the offense,” he said.
Ross agreed with the government and adopted the presentencing recommendations for the most part, which included an offense level of 23, a criminal history level of 1, and a recommended sentence range of 46 to 57 months as a starting point.
Ross then moved to the “reasonable sentence” phase, during which she took into account “numerous letters of support” that had come in “as late as yesterday evening.” Those 24 letters, she said, came from politicians, seniors, and homeowners associations, praising Hill’s contributions to the community, the fact that he was spotted picking up trash on the side of the road, and that he had sent flowers to people’s funerals.
Those who wrote to ask Ross for leniency on Hill’s behalf included Clayton County Library Board Chair and My Three Sicklers President Mapillar Dahn; Hill’s brother, aunt, and uncle; gospel singer Dottie Peoples; Bear Creek Homeowners Association Board member Daniel Curl; Emmanuel Baptist Church Senior Pastor Gregory D. Ward; Joanne Vaca, a senior citizen from Clayton County; retired State Rep. Darryl W. Jordan (D-77); retired historian/archivist/museum curator Cathy E. Loving; businesswoman Mershon Wheeler; home housekeeper Marilyn Owens; “senior citizen” Richard F. DiTroita; The Reserve at Lake Ridge Homeowners Association President Forrest Henderson-Johnson; former Fulton County Sheriff’s Office Deputy and Henry County Schools substitute teacher Kenyatta Judd; Patricia J. Butler of Jonesboro; New Faith Christian Church Bishop Eusebio D. Phelps; Wayside Builders business consultant and project manager Joe Jones; WIGO personality and Fresh Koncepts Marketing CEO Dr. Kameron Stevenson; Clayton County resident Rose Jackson; William C. Russaw of Jonesboro; Associate Pastor Vincent and Angela Bateman of Living Faith Tabernacle; Rosemary White of Forest Park; and former Northbridge Estates Homeowners Association President Rae James.
“The convictions with which we’re dealing in this case are pretty novel,” Ross explained. “I don’t know of any criminal convictions dealing with restraints,” nor did she know of any such civil cases. She noted some similarities with U.S. v. Epley, a 1995 Sixth Circuit appellate case, in terms of sentencing but in that case, she said, “there was only one victim and a couple of other factors,” including lying and planting false evidence on an FBI informant. Although the trial court “did not adequately explain on the record” Epley’s sentencing—”I don’t know what he was resentenced to”—Ross added that “it’s just very helpful for the court to be provided with some guidance” in novel cases like Hill’s.
A good word
As part of the sentencing process, the defense presented four character witnesses, in addition to the 24 letters from others that are part of the court record.
Roderick Didone, a former detainee at the Clayton County Jail, said he met Hill in 2018 and credited the former sheriff with getting him off hard drugs; he told the court he’s been clean ever since. “He became not just a sheriff to me but a father figure…he helped me dig deep down in my roots, and I was fully able to become Roderick Didone.” He added that his mother had been LifeFlighted to Emory Hospital last night with a ruptured brain aneurysm, but that it was “important for me to be here, too.”
Interim Sheriff Levon Allen, in a black suit instead of his uniform and wearing his badge, spelled his name for the record: “L-E-V, as in Victor-O-N,” and called Hill “my boss and also my mentor and godfather” and “a bonus parent.” He recounted his request for a meeting with Hill at age 17, which Hill took, and that Hill has supported him from that day. “I could have taken the path to prison, to the graveyard, or to success,” Allen said. “He has always demanded greatness from me.”
CCSO Chaplain Donald G. Bowen, who appeared in uniform, said he has worked in various prison ministries, including for the U.S. Marshals Service at the federal prison in Lovejoy. “When Victor Hill was sheriff of Clayton County, it became one of the safest counties, in Georgia,” he said. “Criminals wouldn’t come to Clayton County; they’d just pass through.” As s a part-time CCSO chaplain, Bowen said, he was “able to observe jail operations close-up…some say it was so clean that you could eat off the floor.” He said inmates and staff were respectful due to a paramilitary atmosphere. “Victor Hill is a good and righteous man who has a lot of good in his heart to offer the county,” he said.
Jarrett S. Gorlin, who flies charter helicopters and planes and who said he said he “was lucky enough to be born into a family that was fortunate,” has been friends with Hill for over 15 years and worked for him for about seven. He had sent Hill an approving comment about a Valentine’s Day social media post that said, “We stalk those who stalk you” and was surprised when Hill called him. He said he started his law enforcement career in Fulton County and that “[Hill’s] jail was cleaner than any hospital.” He recounted a time he and Hill entered a buffet and a woman yelled, “Sheriff on deck,” then faced the restaurant wall: “‘Sorry Sheriff.I guess you know where I’ve been,'” then thanked Hill for bringing structure into her life. “Your Honor…that was not a man whose intentions was to hurt others,” he said. “That was a man doing God’s work.”
Hill was given the opportunity to address the court before his sentencing. When Ross asked if he would like to speak, Hill replied, “I w0uld like to execute.”
At the podium, Hill said, “Your Honor, thank you for the opportunity to speak. I’ve often been criticized for quotes. One is Clayton County being ‘my county.’ As its former leader…the reason is not because I bought the land or rule the land. It’s because I take ownership of the county.” He cited trash pickup as one example.
“A couple of things the government said really, really, really, really, really concerned me,” Hill continued. “I did not use the chair 600 times. My staff used the chair 600 times. I really don’t want my staff to go through this.
Hill also denied the government’s claim that he had told CCSO employees his word was the word of God. “That’s not true,” Hill said, adding that there had been an unspecified big problem and that he told staff to “regard [Hill’s word] like I just came from Mt, Sinai and I got the word from the Man himself.
“Tortured? Not true,” he continued. “[Pretrial detainees] were checked every 15 minutes by a nurse and an officer.
“I believed everything I did was inside the bounds of the law,” Hill told the judge. “I know you can’t reach inside my heart and read my true intent, but my intent was never to hurt anybody….Suspended, indicted, removed from office, forced retirement, suspension of license. I ask you to consider that sacrifice in itself and allow me to move forward.”
As she pronounced Hill’s sentence, Ross had sharp words for the former lawman.
“I have truly struggled with this case,” Ross said. “I have given it a lot of thought, and because of the woman I am, a lot of prayer. Not because it’s a high-profile case. I want to understand the decision I make about each defendant’s life and liberty.
“One thing I came to realize during the past year or so is that everyone has a Victor Hill opinion. A lot of people wanted to come to me…I had to shut that down. You are either a hero or a villain. There’s not really any gray area there.
“Although I can consider character evidence, I am not here to punish Victor Hill for everything he’s done,” Ross continued, noting she also had gotten letters about everyone Hill had terminated, as well as a flash drive of the 911 call when Hill shot Gwenevere McCord. “I’m not here for any of that stuff,” she said. Ross acknowledged getting “a ton of letters” from seniors, clergy, HOAs, and former inmates [see PDF above] seeking leniency for Hill. She pointed out that she “didn’t receive any victim impact letters,” likely because of more cases against Hill that are either filed or pending, including civil cases.
“Your younger brother, Jerome, wrote that, from a very early age, you were someone who really loved the law,” Ross told Hill. “That’s what makes this so tragic. What it seems like is your love of power overcame your love of the law, and that combined with your arrogance.
“Some letters [from Hill’s supporters] think his use of the restraint chair was proper. I submit that they weren’t here to hear testimony, particularly the man from Butts County [Glen Howell]….a situation where someone was tight with Victor Hill and had him on speed dial,” Ross said, adding Hill chose not to use his “good judgment” by getting involved in the dispute between Howell and CCSO Lt. Josh Guthrie over FaceTime.
“I don’t mind telling you that [based on] your testimony, and some of your social media activity since your conviction, I’m not sure that you’ve learned your lesson.” Ross told Hill, noting that Hill is “involved in the selection of the next sheriff.”
“My most sincere prayer is that you sit down for a minute and think about everything,” Ross said. “Your arrogance and the thought that how many supporters you have means you can do whatever you want for Clayton County,” adding, “Your mentees are going to have trouble bearing that burden. Sadly, we may continue to see that same problem in Clayton County.”
She then pronounced sentence.
“You’re going to get a downward variance, and it will be a significant one, but not probation.,” Ross said, then imposed 18 months on each of counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7, to be served concurrently.
She said that decision was “based on numerous letters of support” as well as “progressive initiatives for teens, trash pickup,” and “much evidence that you did take many steps to maintain a clean, safe, orderly jail.”
She also said, “This type of charge [civil rights violation under color of law] often involves beatings, shootings, unlawful arrests,” which were not part of the case presented.
Ross also imposed a $600 special assessment, to be paid immediately; waived any fine; added one year of supervised release, which is similar to probation, on each count, to be served consecutively for a total of six years; and 100 hours of community service that must first be approved by his supervisor.
“And I want you to understand this,” Ross stressed to Hill. “You must refrain from engaging in the occupation and business of law enforcement, including as a law enforcement consultant. That means, if the next sheriff of Clayton County is someone closely associated with you that wants to offer a civilian post as a way of circumventing your lack of POST certification—should I get wind of this, I will bring you into this courtroom and hold a supervised release hearing, where the standard is no longer beyond a reasonable doubt, just the preponderance of evidence, 51 percent.”
Hill piped up.
“May I ask a question?”
“No,” Ross replied, adding that he could ask his question when she was done pronouncing sentence.
She then added special conditions of his supervised realease, which included making his personal property, home, vehicle, papers, and other items in his possession “subject to search by request,” and that he consent to the seizure and disposal of any contraband found.
Hill then asked for clarification on whether being a “consultant” included “supporting a political candidate.”
Ross replied, “If you are working as a political consultant, I would think that might be,” adding that campaigning as an individual for a candidate likely would not violate the special condition.
Hill has 14 days to appeal and can file as a pauper if he cannot afford an attorney, Ross said.
When court adjourned, several of Hill’s supporters tried to approach him behind the bar and were told to get back by a U.S. Marshal. Among the group was State Sen. Gail Davenport.
“You can’t do that!”
At 8:15 this morning, a white van rolled up to the back door of the Richard B. Russell Federal Courthouse in downtown Atlanta. As several news photographers ran to catch a glimpse of Hill exiting the van behind a strategically-placed umbrella, a guard ran towards the photographers, yelling, “You can’t do that!” and attempting to block their view. (The photographers were on public property covering news, activity that is protected by the First Amendment and federal case law.) This was typical of Hill’s arrivals and departures from the courthouse throughout the trial. Unlike his political consultant and former chief of staff Mitzi Bickers, who strode through the press gaggle outside the courthouse with her family at her side, Hill has remained camera-shy and played cat-and-mouse games with reporters waiting outside.
Instead, his defense attorney, Drew Findling, catches the flak, essentially repeating the arguments he had presented in court and pooh-poohing any questions that might put his client in a less than favorable light.
Asked what he made of the fact that Hill’s only pressing question was whether he could continue to campaign for Interim Sheriff Levon Allen, Findling said, “I don’t think there’s any significance to that. I think that you’re in Clayton County, so that’s important to you. What it tells the rest of us is that he wanted to abide by the terms and conditions of the probation, which is that—the supervised release. The supervised release says he can’t be in law enforcement, either by proxy or directly. And he wanted to make sure with the court, right then and there, he wanted to show his respect for the system by saying, ‘If I do political campaigning, is that a violation?’, to which the judge said, ‘It is not.'”
While Findling repeatedly railed against federal prosecutors he said were not investigating squalid conditions in federal prisons, he did not say anything about similar conditions in the Clayton County Jail, which has been under the direct supervision of Hill’s command staff during his suspension, including retired Acting Sheriff/Cheif Deputy Roland Boher and Hill’s godson, Allen.
“This is an incredibly viable appeal”
Findling said, “There will be an appeal, and I mean, the appeal is—gonna get a transcript, and, you know, we’ll start doing everything in the appellate process.” He added, “This is an incredibly viable appeal. This is just not any appeal. These are some incredibly unique issues, and I think Her Honor highlighted, right, in the opening statement today before sentencing, the uniqueness of this case. And the uniqueness of this case will really highlight how we pursue the appeal.”
Earlier, Findling told The Clayton Crescent the defense plans to pursue two main points: “the lack of notice that this legally-purchased item used in jails all over America was the basis of the charges against [Hill], when it’s used in hundreds of thousands” of jails and prisons,” as well as “the uniqueness of the four-day deliberation and…the forejuror who was singled out” by other jury members.
The appeal will go to the Eleventh U.S. Circuit.
Also at Hill’s sentencing was another high-profile criminal attorney, Arthur Aidala, who was added to Hill’s defense team on February 27, according to court filings. Aidala has represented Rudolph Giuliani, Alan Dershowitz, and Harvey Weinstein.
Cleveland Jackson, a Marine Corps veteran who was at one point held in the Clayton County Jail, attended every day of Hill’s trial. He spent the weekend posting musical Facebook memes mocking Hill. “At least we got a little justice,” he said.
Jackson said he, too, had been strapped into a restraint chair at the Clayton County Jail for several hours.
In a press release, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Ryan K. Buchanan said, “This district is fortunate to be served by thousands of law enforcement officers who bravely perform their duties with great honor, but former Sheriff Victor Hill is not one of them.
“Former Sheriff Victor Hill chose to disregard the welfare of some within his control. The evidence was clear in this case: there was absolutely no justification for Hill to order pretrial detainees to be strapped into restraint chairs for hours on end. These men suffered painful injuries. Without question, his actions not only hurt the victims but eroded the public’s trust in law enforcement. Hill brazenly abused his power and has been held accountable by a jury and a judge and will go to federal prison.
“Hill rejected one of the most basic tenets of law enforcement: that the U.S. Constitution forbids an officer – even a sheriff – from using unreasonable force.”
MORE TO COME