One former and two current employees of the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office are suing Sheriff Victor Hill for allegedly retaliating against them because they successfully sued him in 2005.
Former Chief Deputy Garland Watkins, who ran against Hill as a write-in candidate last year, and Lt. Brian Crisp and Lt. Jeffrey Mitchell, say in their complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta that Hill demoted or marginalized them to punish them for their previous wrongful termination suit and for supporting his political opponents the three times he ran for sheriff — two elections he won and one that he lost.
Watkins, who resigned in June to take a position in the District Attorney’s Office, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “No one in our position should have to go through this type of retaliation.”
Hill’s office did not respond to requests for comment. County Attorney Jack Hancock said he had not seen the suit so he had no comment other than “the county will file a response at the appropriate time.”
The suit — which names Hill, Chief Deputy Shon Hill and the county — says the sheriff “engaged in a retaliatory campaign of severe harassment and intimidation,” creating a “hostile and unwelcome” workplace for Watkins, Crisp and Mitchell.
The three were among 27 Sheriff’s Office employees Hill fired Jan. 3, 2005, soon after taking office for the first time. They sued and won, and the county was ordered to pay $7 million to resolve the case. The court ordered the three reinstated but they took jobs with the Clayton County Police Department for the rest of Hill’s first term in office.
Hill lost his re-election bid in 2008, but won a return to office last year.
The three publicly worked against Hill — and for his opponents — in all three elections. Last year, Watkins ran as a write-in candidate after Hill defeated the incumbent in the Democratic primary runoff, virtually assuring him the job since there was no Republican candidate.
When Hill took office in January, Watkins was No. 2 in the department, Crisp was a captain and Mitchell was a major, but they were soon made lieutenants, which also meant a cut in pay.
Watkins said Hill dispatched armed deputies to his house “for the purpose of forcibly seizing” the car he had been assigned with the option of driving it home.
“We feel like it was retaliation from the last lawsuit,” Watkins said.
Watkins’ position as chief deputy was protected by county work rules, but he was assigned, along with Crisp and Mitchell, to work 12-hour night shifts on the newly created crime suppression unit. That involved members of the unit spending hours sitting in their cars “watching gas stations, convenience stores, apartment buildings and private residences,” the lawsuit says.
They were ordered to perform jobs that were “not commensurate with their rank, training and experiences,” the suit says.
“He … stripped me of all my supervisory and managerial responsibility,” Watkins said. “As far as I’m concerned, he resigned me from office.”
This most recent suit comes a month after a Clayton County jury acquitted Hill of 27 felony charges that he used his office for personal gain.
“Now he’s getting his revenge,” attorney Harlan Miller, who represents the three men who brought the suit, told Channel 2 Action News.