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October 29, 2022
This week, a jury found ex-Clayton County (Georgia) sheriff Victor Hill guilty of violating the civil rights of people he detained in his jail. The allegations, detailed in an indictment from last spring, chronicle extensive abuse of authority through the use of a restraint chair just to make people suffer, among other wrongs.
Hill, known as the “Crime Fighter,” was fond of the Batman theme (he called his car “The Black Phantom”) and gained a reputation for being pugnacious, blunt, and self-aggrandizing. He called the Clayton County jail the “Hill-ton” and forced people in the jail to sing songs in his praise and march in quasi-military formations. (Hill’s social media accounts, which once broadcast videos of these antics to his adoring followers, have been shut down.) The ex-sheriff is also not a stranger to the courtroom – in 2012 he was re-elected despite being under indictment for 27 counts of fraud.
During the course of the trial, one juror allegedly said, during deliberations, “the sheriff and the president are above the law and not required to follow the Constitution." While the jury convicted Hill unanimously, the stray comment raises the question of how much the far-right sheriff movement has trickled down to non-law enforcement officials. How much influence has the far-right, anti-government stance had on the general public’s acceptance of extraordinary – and legally unsupported – sheriff powers? Does it track with the extraordinary number of people on the right who believe in the Big Lie?
In any event, it’s something to add to the list of “why it’s hard to hold sheriffs accountable.”
The Marshall Project worked with two political science academics on a survey of sheriffs. While of course, a survey represents a sampling, the results suggest that sheriffs, as a whole, are more conservative and are more inclined to be sympathetic to far-right views. (But, of course, they are happy to accept lots of money to be trained out of these views.)
The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting published a two-part series on Arizona far-right sheriffs and their links to a ballot-watching group connected to the Oath Keepers.
The New York Times did a podcast about a Utah sheriff who is helping teachers learn to shoot; the same sheriff announced he was investigating a reform-minded county prosecutor for alleged Satanic abuse rituals as a way to derail his reelection campaign. Are Satanic abuse accusations the rural version of an impeachment committee for prosecutors who may be too just?