Sunday, October 1, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Jury gets case of Georgia sheriff accused of illegally restraining detainees

After hearing closing arguments, jurors are working to decide whether the Clayton County sheriff is guilty of violating the civil rights of seven detainees.

ATLANTA (CN) — The jury was unable to reach a verdict Friday after attorneys presented their closing arguments in the trial for a Georgia sheriff charged with violating detainees' civil rights by strapping them to a chair for hours at a time.

After eight days of trial, U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross, an Obama appointee, dismissed the jurors for the weekend on Friday afternoon and they will return Monday morning.

Federal prosecutors indicted Victor Hill in April 2021, accusing the Clayton County sheriff of using restraint chairs for purposes other than emergencies when an inmate threatens to injure themselves or someone else, damage property or has shown violent or uncontrollable behavior.

They claim Hill used unnecessary force by placing these detainees in restraint chairs for four or more hours because they were compliant with officers and not posing any threats inside the jail.

The popular yet controversial sheriff of 10 years is accused of using the restraint chairs to punish seven detainees and "teach them a lesson," despite not having been convicted of any crimes.

"The Constitution applies at the beginning at the jail just as it applies here. Defendant Victor Hill is presumed not guilty just like those detainees were," U.S. Attorney Brent Gray told jurors.

But Hill's defense counsel argued that the government failed to provide the jury with a "smoking gun" or enough substantial evidence to prove him guilty.

Defense attorney Drew Findling noted prosecutors' unexpected decision to rest their case Wednesday afternoon when the trial was predicted to last at least two weeks, telling the jurors that as the FBI, they should have used their authority to bring in expert testimony if his client was guilty.

In his testimony Thursday, Hill explained that he uses the restraint chairs as a preventative measure, not a reactionary one. He said he decided to place certain detainees in the chair before they even arrived to the jail because he felt they had the potential to become uncontrollable based on "the totality of the circumstances."

The seven alleged victims expressed in their testimonies that being in the chair was painful and some of them claimed to have urinated on themselves because they were denied bathroom breaks.

"I've been having to go potty for half this trial, that's not a pain issue," Findling said during his closing argument.

When Raheem Peterkin took the stand Monday, he said the restraint chair experience was the worst thing he ever felt. However, on Friday, Findling accused prosecutors of "committing perjury" for questioning Peterkin while he faces pending charges.

The attorney called out the government for failing to remind Peterkin of his Fifth Amendment rights and attacked prosecutors for having seemingly contradicting stances on protecting one's rights to due process.

"He's just a sacrificial lamb to them," Findling said.

The attorney referred to prosecutors' photos of a deep gash on Desmond Bailey's wrists as "silly selfies," and argued they failed to provide any expert medical testimony to justify the extent of the detainees' alleged injuries.

But during Gray's closing argument, the prosecutor showed the jury a report filed in the jail that said nurses discovered Bailey had open blisters and bleeding and was thus removed from the restraint chair. Gray also presented a photo of a yellow warning label on the back of a restraint chair that read: "Use of without first reading and thoroughly understanding the instructions could cause injury or death."

Chryshon Hollins, who was 17 years old at the time, was strapped in for 10 consecutive hours. Hill testified Thursday that he was unaware the teen had been restrained in the chair for a second time.

"Destructive behavior is a pre-indicator of violence," Hill previously testified as his reason for ordering Hollins to a restraint chair before even entering the jail.

According to Findling, Hollins' time in the restraint chair protected him from the other older and more dangerous inmates, such as Joseph Harper, who was shown also strapped into a chair next to him in a video.

"Let us thank the lord that Hollins didn't get his brain bashed in by Mr. Harper," the attorney said.

But prosecutors argue that even Harper's time in the restraint chair was unjustified because he faked unconsciousness after being arrested and therefore couldn't have been exhibiting violent behavior.

Throughout the course of the trial, prosecutors brought in multiple former sheriff's office employees who testified they had no issues during their encounters with any of the seven detainees.

Although he was reelected as the county's sheriff in 2020, Hill was suspended by Governor Brian Kemp until his case is resolved.

Follow @@Megwiththenews
Categories / Civil Rights, Regional, Trials

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.