Sheriff Who Deployed Tank in Drug Raids, Indicted in Use of Restraint Chair Seeks Dismissal

Suspended Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill, who used a tank in drug raids and was indicted on charges of using excessive force while holding people in a restraint chair, sought to have all federal charges dismissed in court Monday.

Hill was indicted in April by a federal grand jury, accused of violating the civil rights of four people at the county jail, the Associated Press reported. Another person was added after another indictment was filed in July.

On Monday, Hill's lawyer said the use of the restraint chair does not equal excessive force under any law, thus the federal charges against him should be dismissed. Hill's lawyers have also argued that these charges are a first for the U.S. Department of Justice, as similar actions to what's alleged have never been brought under indictment. The attorneys said prosecutors only went for Hill due to his past.

"If his name weren't Victor Hill, your honor, we wouldn't be here," defense attorney Lynsey Barron said in a hearing on a defense request to dismiss the indictment.

A federal prosecutor said there was excessive force due to the restraint chair, as it was used as punishment with no other reason given.

Restraint chairs can be used to prevent injury or property damage if other methods are proven ineffective when interacting with an uncontrollable and violent person in a sheriff's office policy that Hill approved, the indictment says. However, the policy also says usage of the restraint chair "will never be authorized as a form of punishment."

Barron said jails regularly use restraint chairs. He said there is no clear case law that shows "when restraint crosses over the line into the area of force."

Barron said that prosecutors are requesting the judge to "chart an area that hasn't been charted yet." That should be done in a civil court, Barron said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Victor Hill, Indictment Dismissal, Excessive Force
A lawyer for suspended Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill argued that the sheriff's use of a restraint chair doesn’t amount to excessive force under any clearly established law and federal charges against him should be dismissed. In this photo taken Aug. 16, 2012, Hill speaks at a candidates forum in Rex, Georgia. Kent D. Johnson/Atlanta Journal Constitution via AP

The indictment alleges that the men were improperly held in a restraint chair for hours even though they had complied with deputies and posed no threat. They suffered pain and bodily injury as a result, prosecutors have said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bret Hobson argued that courts have clearly established that when law enforcement officers continue to use force against someone in their custody who has stopped resisting, that force is considered excessive. In the examples provided in the indictment, he said, the people were not resisting to begin with so any use of force was unconstitutional.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Bly did not immediately rule on the defense motion to dismiss but said the arguments made by both sides were "exceedingly helpful."

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in June suspended Hill until the charges against him are resolved or until his term of office is over, whichever comes first.

Hill has attracted controversy since he first became sheriff in Clayton County, just south of Atlanta.

He fired 27 deputies on his first day in office in 2005 and used a tank owned by the sheriff's office during drug raids as part of a tough-on-crime stance adopted in his first term.

He failed to win re-election in 2008, but voters returned him to office in 2012 despite the fact that he faced more than two dozen criminal charges in a corruption case. A jury later acquitted him of all 27 charges, clearing the way for him to continue as sheriff.

Hill pleaded no contest to a reckless conduct charge in August 2016 after shooting and wounding a woman in a Gwinnett County model home in May 2015. Hill and the woman said it was an accident that happened while they were practicing police tactics.