A federal magistrate judge has recommended against dismissing an indictment accusing an Atlanta-area sheriff of violating the civil rights of people in his custody.
The federal indictment against now-suspended Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill says he violated the civil rights of five people who were being held at the county jail. Prosecutors say he used excessive force against the men when he ordered them held in a restraint chair without justification and as punishment.
Lawyers for Hill had argued that the sheriff’s use of a restraint chair does not amount to excessive force under any clearly established law and argued before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Bly that the charges should be dismissed.
In a Dec. 29 filing, Bly disagreed. The idea “that a law enforcement officer may not use force against a detainee who is complying—is neither novel nor new,” he wrote, adding that the indictment alleges that Hill “used force against pretrial detainees who were complying with law enforcement instructions.”
Bly noted that Hill’s lawyers argued “that there is no case law making clear that the use of restraint chairs amounts to the use of force at all, let alone excessive force.” Bly wrote that he “simply cannot agree that placing someone in restraints, to a degree that they cause physical pain and bodily injury (as is alleged as to each of the detainees), does not amount to the use of ‘force.’”
Bly recommended that the motion to dismiss be denied and certified the case ready for trial.
Drew Findling, an attorney for Hill, said in a phone interview that he will ask the U.S. district court judge who gets assigned to the case to review the magistrate judge’s decision.
“We’re not losing sight of the fact that, reviewing the facts of the case itself, that the sheriff is completely innocent of those charges,” Findling said.
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.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in June suspended Hill until the charges against him are resolved or until his term of office is over, whichever comes first. A Fulton County Superior Court judge last month declined Hill’s request to order the governor to reinstate him as sheriff.
Hill has previously said the case is politically motivated. His lawyers have argued that the U.S. Department of Justice has never brought criminal charges for any behavior similar to what’s alleged in the indictment and that prosecutors targeted him because of his controversial past as sheriff in Clayton County, just south of Atlanta.