A federal judge could order former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill to testify in person in Atlanta this July in the wrongful termination case of a former corrections officer in January 2019.
The case is Kyetha Sweeting v. Levon Allen, case number 1:19-cv-02200-JPB in the U.S. Northern District of Georgia, before Judge J.P. Boulee. Trial is set for July 11 at 9 a.m., with a backup date of July 24 at 9 a.m., and is expected to last about two weeks. Both sides have asked for an extension through Friday, June 9 to file motions in limine.
A writ of habeas corpus filed Monday, June 5 indicate that both sides in the case have asked Boulee to allow Hill to testify in person. They also are asking that Hill be allowed to wear business attire, rather than his prison uniform, while in court. Hill is serving an 18-month sentence at FCI Low Forrest City, AR for violating the rights, under color of law, of six pretrial detainees in the Clayton County Jail:
Attorney James Radford, who represents Sweeting, argues that, because Hill is now a convicted felon, he plans “to present evidence of Hill’s conviction solely to impeach Hill’s character for truthfulness” because “Hill was the sole decision-maker, and the outcome of this trial depends heavily on the jury’s assessment of his credibility”:
“Although Defendant argues that Hill’s credibility does not bear on the question of whether Ms. Sweeting’s disability rendered her unqualified for her position, there are many important factual issues to which Hill’s credibility is important. For example, did Hill genuinely believe Ms. Sweeting was unfit for duty, or was that assertion a pretext to terminate her to avoid having to provide reasonable accommodations? For Ms. Sweeting’s FMLA claims, is Hill’s claim credible that he believed her to be unfit, or is that assertion more likely a pretext to terminate her in retaliation for her invocation of rights under FMLA? In this case, like in other employment discrimination cases, the ultimate question is whether the employer’s explanation for its decision is lacking in credibility, such that a jury could determine that reason is a pretext for discrimination or retaliation.”
Sweeting’s attorney also rebuffed the defense’s argument “that impeaching Hill with his own conviction ‘could easily preclude Sheriff Allen from getting a fair trial.’ Sheriff Allen is only a nominal party to this case, and Hill’s actions are what will determine whether the true party-in-interest, the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, is liable to Ms. Sweeting,” adding, “If anything, it stands to reason that Allen’s assumption of the office of Sheriff insulates Defendant here from any unfair prejudice Hill’s conviction might conceivably cause–not ‘guilt by association’ but ‘non-liability by replacement’ is the real threat here.”
While the defense has asked to exclude the fact that Hill and Allen have a close relationship–Hill is Allen’s godfather and mentor, and sold his personal home to Allen after his 2022 conviction–Sweeting’s attorney argues their relationship may be relevant and could come up at trial: “While Ms. Sweeting does not presently intend to introduce such evidence to the jury, it may become relevant and admissible, so exclusion of this evidence in limine would be improper. For example, given their apparent close personal relationship, it is certainly possible that Sheriff Allen would offer testimony regarding Hill’s character or reputation for truthfulness. If that happens, evidence regarding Allen’s relationship with Hill would be relevant to Allen’s credibility and would be admissible under Rules 402 and 608(b).”
Radford argues that Allen’s concerns about “‘guilt by association’…are immaterial,” and that “excluding this evidence does risk unfair prejudice to Ms. Sweeting, in that it opens the door for Defendant to confuse the jury by arguing incorrectly, as it does in this very motion, that this case s ‘against Sheriff Allen–not Hill.’ This case is against the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, and as discussed above, there are some legitimate purposes for which evidence of the current Sheriff’s relationship to the previous Sheriff can and should be admitted.”
In addition, Radford says Sweeting’s claim that her constitutional rights were violated when she was terminated because of her medical condition should not exclude evidence of a criminal trespass warrant Hill had issued when she was terminated: “This was a gratuitous punishment that evidences Hill’s hostile animus toward Ms. Sweeting, and it is
therefore relevant to her claims for illegal discrimination and retaliation.”
Allen’s attorney, Kirsten S. Daughdril, argues that Sweeting “did not even work in the jail” and that Hill’s conviction is irrelevant to her case: “there is no correlation between Hill’s conviction and his character for truthfulness or credibility, let alone the salient issues in this case, i.e., whether or not Plaintiff’s disability rendered her unqualified for her employment position. Additionally, the stark difference between the facts underlying Hill’s conviction and this case are so great as to negate any probative value of his conviction. Hill’s conviction was based on his administration of the jail and his treatment of ‘arrestees, pretrial detainees awaiting trial, and convicted inmates awaiting transfer to state prison.’ In contrast, this case involves Hill’s employment decisions with respect to Plaintiff, who did not even work in the jail. Hill’s administration of the jail has no bearing on his credibility as an employer.”
Daughdril also wants to exclude the fact that Allen is Hill’s godson, as well as the fact that Hill actively campaigned for Allen, arguing that those facts could confuse the jury: “Victor Hill has described Sheriff Allen as his godson, and actively campaigned on behalf of Sheriff Allen in the recent election. As argued above, the jury may already be confused about the identity of the defendant in this case. Specifically, although it is Hill’s employment decision that is at issue in the trial, he is no longer the Defendant. The jury will be asked to render a verdict against Sheriff Allen – not Hill. Given the notoriety surrounding Sheriff Hill, and particularly in light of his recent criminal conviction, in order to avoid a ‘guilt by association’ bias against Sheriff Allen and afford him a fair trial, any reference to the fact that Sheriff Allen is Hill’s godson and/or that Hill supported Sheriff Allen in the March and April elections should be excluded. Such evidence is not only irrelevant to the issues in this case, but also would be unfairly prejudicial.”
As for the criminal trespass warrant, Daughdril argues that should not be part of the case, calling it “irrelevant, prejudicial, and should be precluded. This is especially true if the Sheriff’s Office agrees to withdraw the trespass warrant prior to trial, which would further render the claim moot and buttress Defendant’s arguments.”
Sweeting’s case comes on the heels of a $202,000 judgement against CCSO for Brittani Williams, a former CCSO services clerk and disabled veteran who Hill fired after she requested accommodations for post-traumatic stress disorder. Hill denied the accommodations, ordered a fit-for-duty test (which Williams passed), then terminated her allegedly based on a false allegation by another officer that she had dyed her hair bright red; Williams said it was brown.