ATLANTA (CN) — An Atlanta-area sheriff defended himself Thursday in federal court against charges that he violated the civil rights of multiple detainees by strapping them into restraint chairs for several hours as punishment.
Federal prosecutors indicted Victor Hill in April 2021, accusing the Clayton County Sheriff of using the restraint chairs for purposes other than for emergencies, such as when an inmate threatens to injure themselves, someone else, property or "has demonstrated violent or uncontrollable behavior."
The controversial yet popular sheriff, who has served in the elected position for ten years despite having already faced prosecution before, took the stand in the seventh day of trial.
He told the court that he put detainees in restraint chairs because they showed "pre-attack indicators" and because of "the totality of the circumstances." He added that restraints can be used by law enforcement even during traffic stops to avoid potential attack or escape attempts.
Hill and his defense counsel argued that the restraint chairs are used as a "preventative action as opposed to a reactive action," and that detainees can be placed in them based on their actions prior to their arrest.
But prosecutors argue that the seven alleged victims were already handcuffed and compliant with officers after their intake into the jail and exhibited no threatening signs to justify Hill strapping them into chairs for four or more hours.
One of the detainees was 17 years-old at the time and was brought into custody for vandalizing his home after having a dispute with his mother.
"Destructive behavior is a pre-indicator of violence," Hill said as his reason for placing Chryshon Hollins in a restraint chair.
When asked by prosecutors why he told Hollins and another detainee, "I'm going to sit your ass in the chair for 16 hours straight," Hill said they need a "strong male role to keep them in line" because many of the detainees were raised by a single mother and that females may not be able to get them under control as well.
Hill also said that he was not aware that the teen had been put in the chair for an additional six hours after he had already been restrained for four, which is the maximum time for it to be used according to the official guidelines.
Hollins said during his testimony on Monday that he cried throughout and that it "felt like torture."
Despite Hill's statements that medical personnel check on inmates who are in restraint chairs every 15 minutes, two of the detainees said that they were not offered bathroom breaks and were forced to urinate on themselves.
Walter Thomas, who was arrested for speeding with a suspended license and drug possession, told the court Tuesday that he urinated on himself "about three or four times."
While Hill testified that he ordered for the chair to be used on Thomas because he was not complying with an officer during intake, there is no video evidence, even though the sheriff said there is constant video surveillance inside the jail.
When asked by U.S. Attorney Brent Gray if the two detainees who were taken out of their cells and then put in restraint chairs were being destructive, Hill said "No, not at the jail."
One of the detainees, Glenn Howell, was shown obeying an officer's instructions while being searched and calmly sitting in a chair handcuffed for several minutes unattended in a video presented to the jury earlier in the trial.
A deputy complained to Hill that Howell had damaged his property after they had a payment dispute over landscaping work. Hill said he called Howell out of concern for the deputy's safety and as the conversation grew ugly, was told to "go fuck himself."
Hill said that because of this threat to law enforcement by Howell, he put him in the restraint chair after arresting him for "harassing communications."
"These type of people are a threat to jail security," Hill said, contradicting testimony provided Wednesday by two officers working in the jail during Howell's arrest who said he never threatened anyone or showed aggressive behavior.
“It felt like a lifetime," Howell said about his five hours spent in a restraint chair.
Howell testified that he began to experience claustrophobia while restrained in the chair and was denied medical attention when he expressed concern that he was having a heart attack.
Prosecutors presented the jury again with a video of Joseph Arnold, one of the detainees who is shown in handcuffs, complying with officers and asking if he was entitled to a "fair and speedy trial," to which Hill responded, "You're entitled to sit in this chair," before strapping him in.
Based on information he had received about Arnold's alleged crime of assaulting an elderly woman, Hill said he had made the decision to put him in the chair before he was even brought into the jail.
Arnold said the restraints were “very painful and humiliating,” during his testimony.
However, Hill repeatedly testified Thursday that to his knowledge no inmates have been injured while being strapped in the chairs.
His statement contradicts photos and videos shown by prosecutors of red welts on the wrists of multiple detainees, and a grisly gash on both wrists of one of the men, Desmond Bailey.
Hill's defense counsel also questioned Elizabeth Smith, a nurse from the jail and Clayton County Chief Deputy Roland Boehrer, who both said they had no knowledge of, or involvement with, any of the seven detainees.
The trial is being overseen by U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross, an Obama appointee, and is expected to wrap up Friday or early next week.