UPDATE: An arrest warrant was issued for Sheriff Victor Hill at 5 p.m. on May 6, 2015. He surrendered, was charged with a misdemeanor count of reckless conduct, and left on $2,950 bond less than an hour after being booked into the Gwinnett County jail.
He apparently wanted to be Georgia’s own Batman.
On his first day in office, Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill terminated 27 deputies and put snipers on the office roof—just in case the disgruntled cops acted out. Then he used tax dollars to repaint squad cars with his name and deployed a military tank on drug busts.
As his county’s first black sheriff, he proudly dons a shiny gold star on his lapel and has long extolled the virtues of defeating the bad guys. He once requested assault rifles and night-vision goggles in an effort to turn his suburban Atlanta agency into a “paramilitary organization.”
In one 2012 campaign commercial, a suited actor rushes into the fictional mayor’s office and says, “We’re in a state of emergency,” before advising, “Victor Hill is the only sheriff that criminals fear.” The mayor pulls out a big red button and quietly commands, “Do it,” and Hill’s own version of the Bat-Signal flashes in the sky.
“My favorite thing as a kid was to play cops and robbers,” Hill told Atlanta Magazine in 2006, a year after being elected. “People pretty much know what they’re gonna do when they’re children…What we play as kids, ultimately, we end up playing on the stage of life for real.”
Hill’s colorful history is the stuff of made-for-TV movies, if not superhero fantasy. But now he appears less avid crime-fighter and more Clown Prince of Crime.
On Sunday evening, the sheriff shot and critically injured real estate agent Gwenevere McCord, 43, inside a model home. The incident has attracted national scrutiny as authorities say Hill is trying to dodge their efforts to find out what happened. McCord, who has had two surgeries, is unable to speak, police say, and Hill hasn’t fully cooperated, according to police outside his jurisdiction.
“He refused to cooperate and give any statement,” Gwinnett County police Sgt. Brian Doan said Monday.
Gwinnett County district attorney Danny Porter added Tuesday, “I guess he’s semi-cooperative is the best way to put it.”
McCord—who took a bullet in the abdomen, according to police—is in critical condition. Her father, Ernest McCord, called the situation a “freak accident.” “They’re good friends,” her dad told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He’s always been a perfect gentleman with us. He’s always shown concern for us and for her.”
No charges have been filed and the investigation continues.
Hill broke his silence Tuesday afternoon. “As reported…I was involved in a tragic and heartbreaking accident,” Hill wrote in a statement posted on the sheriff office’s Facebook page.
“Gwenevere McCord, who is very dear to me, was critically injured in this accident. Please understand that for the past 48 hours, I have been entirely focused on Gwenevere and her family.”
Investigators don’t appear to buy his account completely. “There are circumstances of this that are questionable and make me question the idea that it was purely an accident,” Porter told the Gwinnett Daily Post.
It’s unclear why the sheriff and McCord were inside the home in Lawrenceville, about an hour northeast of Clayton County. Hill and one other unnamed person called 911, and Porter told local media there are inconsistencies between the two 911 calls and physical evidence.
Hill told 911 dispatchers he accidentally shot McCord while “practicing police tactics,” Porter told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The sheriff’s account of the location of McCord’s body and weapon at the scene, however, apparently didn’t match what police discovered on Sunday.
The second 911 caller entered the home shortly after the shooting. Porter said authorities aren’t releasing the calls or the witness’s name. “We don’t want to give [Hill] a lot of facts,” Porter said. “I want to hear the unvarnished version of what happened.”
Hill’s command staff were already at the scene when Gwinnett police arrived. Investigators are looking into whom Hill called and when, Porter said.
Just after the incident, Hill’s attorney also showed up but declined to speak. Police allowed the sheriff to leave. “The only way we could have compelled him to the police station was to arrest him, and we didn’t feel we had enough evidence at that point to make a decision on the arrest,” Porter told WXIA-TV in Atlanta.
The shooting is just the latest in a series of controversies swirling around the showy officer. During his first term, which began in 2005, he faced a lawsuit from the deputies he canned. The officers won their jobs back and a $7 million settlement from the county. (Just before the term ended in 2008, Hill filed for bankruptcy—in part because of the suit.)
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist once called Hill a “tyrant in uniform” and said, “He adds a dimension to the definition of ‘messiah complex.’”
“Hill’s delusions have grown frightening—or comical, or both—with his claims that he needed the snipers, as well as armed guards at his home and office,” Cynthia Tucker wrote in 2005. “He fears that he…might be the target of assassins. But the target on Hill doesn't say ‘shoot me’; it says ‘sue me.’”
Hill lost his reelection bid in 2008 but managed to return to office in 2012—despite facing a 32-count racketeering indictment brought by a special prosecutor in Clayton County Superior Court for his alleged use of county-issued credit cards.
According to the indictment, Hill used the cards to pay for vacations and weekend trips to cabins in the mountains, and also granted paid leave to a female employee so she could accompany him. He also faced theft charges for allegedly ordering employees to work on his personal projects—including his 2008 re-election campaign and his autobiography, Keeper of the County—during work hours.
One ex-staffer told the Clayton News Daily that Hill forced him to work on the county’s dime—at the sheriff’s house. “The sheriff talked about getting vengeance on those he felt responsible for his downfall,” the whistle-blower claimed. “I felt the sheriff was very unstable, highly emotional and irrational...I was fearful of what could happen at his house.”
The Bruce Wayne wannabe dodged a bullet after the jury cleared him of all charges—which would have added up to 455 years in prison. But his legal woes didn’t end there.
In 2013, a federal judge ordered Hill to pay $300,000 to Mark Tuggle—the brother of a former sheriff who left expletive-laden voicemails for Hill following the deputy firings.
Back then, Hill responded by arresting Tuggle and charging him with terrorist threats. The charges were eventually dropped.
But the sheriff forked over the $300,000 settlement using county funds intended to hire six new corrections officers, the News Daily reported.
“Since the acts to which he was found liable happened while he was sheriff, and now that he is sheriff again, Sheriff Hill can fulfill the satisfaction of that judgment from his budget,” said Clayton County commissioner Shana Rooks.
Atlanta attorney Harlan Miller, who represented the fired deputies, said the 5-foot-2 Hill has a “small man complex” and “sees snipers in every tree.”
“He just goes around plotting revenge on people he mistakenly thinks have slighted him along the way,” Miller told The Daily Beast.
The terminated cops are taking their former boss to court again—this time accusing Hill of violating the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act for supposedly retaliating against them. The day Hill returned to office, he sent armed officers to one deputy’s home to seize his county vehicle, according to the 2013 suit.
Miller said the sheriff has managed to keep a lower profile in his latest term—that is, until the shooting of McCord.
“He’s a wild card. He’s unpredictable, but one thing that’s not unpredictable about him is his high opinion of himself,” Miller told The Daily Beast. “He thinks he’s smarter than everybody else.”