Hill denied each of the allegations against him and pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. His lawyers asked a federal judge in November to dismiss the case, arguing the sheriff should have been warned that placing inmates in restraint chairs could be considered excessive force.
In June, Gov. Brian Kemp suspended Hill after a three-member panel determined the sheriff could not perform his duties while indicted. The Fulton County Superior Court last week dismissed an appeal Hill filed in October to lift Kemp’s suspension.
Hill and his lawyers have not responded to repeated requests from the AJC to comment on Howell’s description of his detention.
The federal case was joined by several individual lawsuits against the sheriff, including some in which restraint chairs were involved and one in which the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Georgia ACLU are suing Hill for the alleged breach of the law. sheriff to house. detained adequately to avoid contracting COVID-19.
Speaking at his father’s restaurant in Jackson, Howell, 39, told AJC that Hill intervened in a $ 2,800 trade dispute he was having with an MP for Clayton who lives in Butts County. Neither federal authorities nor the Clayton Sheriff’s Office have identified the deputy.
After taking photos of the work he had done at the deputy’s home in case he needed to put a lien on the property to get his payment, Howell got a call from Hill on April 23 in which the sheriff would have told him to stop harassing his employee, he said.
“He said, ‘This is Victor Hill, the Clayton County Sheriff,’ and I kind of laughed, and he said, ‘What’s so funny? And I said, ‘Are you serious, who is this again?’ “said Howell.
Howell said Hill told him, “I’m going to give you an opportunity to leave my deputy alone. “
The conversation quickly turned heated, Howell said, with the two allegedly cursing each other.
“We were going there,” he said. “And I hung up the phone.”
Howell said he texted Hill after the call and the sheriff, who identifies himself as “the crime fighter”, warned him not to text again, otherwise an arrest warrant would be issued. issued.
The warrant was issued and Hill sent teams of fugitives from Clayton County to hunt down Howell for two days, but could not find him, Howell said.
Alleged similar actions
When Howell surrendered on April 27, he said he was placed in a holding cell at the jail until Hill arrived and then placed in a restraint chair. He told AJC he was tied up for hours and was told by lawmakers to urinate on himself when he asked for time to use the bathroom.
“Two or three minutes later, I started asking a nurse and asking ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ and ‘I need help,’ ”he said.
He said Hill had stood over him for a while while he was immobilized and said, “I told you you have to handle it that way. The sheriff said he warned Howell against harassing his deputy, he said.
Howell said he made no remarks to the sheriff. “I said: ‘Yes sir, yes sir’. “
Others have described similar interactions during skirmishes with Hill.
In a lawsuit filed in October, Timothy O’Neil alleged he urinated on himself after being confined to a restraint chair on Hill’s orders. Hill was angry that he had to close I-75 in October 2019 due to a police standoff with O’Neil.
“Do you know who I am? I had to close 75 for you,” Hill allegedly told O’Neil as the inmate waited in the prison’s mental health unit. attach it to the chair. “
Compression chairs look like a cross between a wheelchair and a padded incline bench press, with straps to confine the arms and feet. A strap also comes over the shoulders and attaches to the seat between the legs in the same manner as that found in an infant car seat or at an amusement park.
The devices are controversial nationally, with critics calling them “the devil’s chair” because they say that instead of using them to secure inmates who might injure themselves, jailers use them to torture.
They have been linked to deaths in at least three states, including the 2015 death of Matthew Ajibade in Chatham County Jail. Ajibade, a student at Savannah College of Art and Design, was arrested after a marital argument with his girlfriend. He was found dead in a restraint chair, in which video showed he had been shoved several times, according to news reports.
Howell told AJC MPs tightened the straps around his legs and handcuffs his hands later that night, leading to him collapsing.
“I started asking for a doctor,” he said. “I felt like I was having a heart attack.
Howell said he suffered two dislocated discs in the shoulder area and nerve damage to his hands as a result of sitting in the chair.
He also said his ordeal in prison affected him in ways he had never imagined.
“It scared me,” he said.