JONESBORO, Ga. (AP) -- An attorney for Clayton County Sheriff’s Department employees who claim they were illegally fired has set off another round of legal action, accusing Sheriff Victor Hill of being uncooperative with the investigation and violating policy.
The newly elected sheriff has been mired in controversy since his first day in office, when he fired 27 employees—mostly white deputies—without warning or apparent cause.
The fired employees allege that Hill, who is black, discriminated against them based on race, age or support of his political opponents. Hill has denied those claims, saying the personnel changes were necessary to restructure a dysfunctional department.
After the Jan. 3 firings touched off a swarm of lawsuits and accusations, the employees were allowed to return to work, but were demoted.
On Thursday, the employees’ attorney threatened another lawsuit against Hill, claiming he illegally filled vacant senior positions by promoting four deputies who had worked for the department for less than one month.
In a letter to the sheriff, Harlan Miller said Hill violated policy by promoting employees to positions of major, captain and lieutenant, although they had not yet completed their one-year probationary period and did not fulfill the minimum qualifications for their jobs.
“These are positions he’s been ordered not to fill,” Miller said. “But he’s gone ahead and put his buddies in these jobs even though they don’t meet the minimum requirements.”
The letter ordered Hill to rescind the promotions or else legal action would be taken.
Hill insisted his promotions were legal because former Sheriff Stanley Tuggle had issued an order suspending the promotion policy shortly before he left office. The recent promotions were in compliance with that order, he said.
Hill also dismissed Miller’s allegations, saying he preferred to focus on running the sheriff’s office. “We’re going to ignore him and the letter,” he said. “All the suits and claims are frivolous.”
The latest legal maneuvering came one day after Miller filed a lawsuit in Superior Court, claiming Hill violated the Open Records Act by not promptly handing over surveillance tapes of the jail for the day of firings, then turning in incomplete footage when he finally did.
Through the footage, Miller hoped to show mistreatment of the fired employees, including reports that Hill had handed them photocopied dismissal papers, stripped them of their guns and badges, positioned snipers on the roof as they were escorted out and had them taken home in vans normally used to transport prisoners.
The lawsuit alleges that Hill failed to provide the tapes within three business days, as required under the Georgia Open Records Act. Hill later turned over a single tape, but it only had “a few minutes of a couple guys standing around in the hallway,” Miller said.
“One of my clients is the person who designed the system, and he knows what cameras would have shown relevant events ... and that would take nearly nine VCR tapes,” he added.
Hill, however, said he fully cooperated with the order to turn over the tapes.
“We complied with (Miller) and gave him exactly what he asked for, and the tapes, the documents speak for itself,” he said.
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