Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill was charged with reckless conduct in connection with a weekend shooting that left a woman in critical condition.
Hill turned himself in and was booked into the Gwinnett County Adult Detention Center at 7:48 p.m. Wednesday on a single misdemeanor count, jail records show. He posted the $2,950 bail and was released about an hour later.
The sheriff declined to speak to reporters as he left the Gwinnett jail.
It is unclear what effect the charge might have on Hill’s law enforcement career. The sheriff has already survived more than three dozen felony charges related to a racketeering case from his first term in office, which ended in 2008. He was acquitted in 2013, after he was elected to a second term.
In charging Hill in the shooting, the warrant said the sheriff consciously disregarded a “substantial and justifiable risk” that “practicing police tactics while in a model home open to the public with a loaded firearm” could cause someone harm. It called Hill’s actions “a gross deviation from the standard of care” a reasonable person would use.
Hill and 43-year-old Gwenevere McCord, a Paran Realty broker, were at a model home near Lawrenceville where McCord works when she was shot in the abdomen Sunday, according to Gwinnett County police. Hill said he was practicing “police tactics” in a 911 call when the shooting occurred, Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter said. The 911 call has not been released.
After the shooting, the sheriff turned in his clothes and weapons and allowed police to download the contents of his cellphone. He has refused to talk to investigators about the shooting.
In a statement Tuesday, Hill said he was “involved in a tragic and heartbreaking accident.” He described McCord as “very dear to me” and said he would “continue to pray unceasingly for her recovery.”
Drew Findling, Hill’s attorney, did not return a phone call seeking comment late Wednesday. Reached by phone Wednesday night, Porter declined to comment on the charge.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner and commissioners Shana Rooks and Gail Hambrick could not be reached for comment. Ernest McCord, the father of Gwenevere McCord, could not be reached. In an interview Tuesday, he said he thought the shooting was a “freak accident.”
Jonathan Newton, Hill’s former public information officer and the president and founder of the National Association Against Police Brutality in Washington, D.C., said Hill’s actions mean he deserves to be removed from office.
“Victor Hill is a liability to himself and the citizens of Clayton County and Georgia,” he said. “His actions are at a minimum reckless and the charges are justified.”
But Hill continues to maintain respect. Pat Pullar, an Ellenwood consultant who tracks southside politics and is a “staunch supporter of Sheriff Hill,” said she wants to see the complete investigation finished.
“I would not want to rush to judgment,” she said.
The misdemeanor reckless conduct charge indicates that the shooting was not an intentional act, said Lawrence Zimmerman, an Atlanta criminal defense lawyer. It applies to someone who causes harm by disregarding a substantial risk, when that disregard is vastly different from how a reasonable person might act.
Michael Mears, an associate professor of law at John Marshall law school, said the maximum penalty for reckless conduct is one year, but very few people get jail time. He said the charges are appropriate if Hill was simply showing McCord his handgun when it went off.
“His conduct was over the line, putting someone in danger,” he said.
The misdemeanor charge should not affect Hill’s ability to stay in office, at least not immediately. State law gives Gov. Nathan Deal the authority to convene a panel of sheriffs to investigate Hill’s ability to serve while under criminal charges. That panel can recommend a suspension, and the governor could suspend Hill for 60 days or more. The chief judge of the superior court of Clayton would appoint an interim sheriff to serve during a suspension.
Deal chose not to convene an investigation when Hill was under indictment before.
In addition to the governor’s authority, the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council can order an emergency suspension of an officer’s certification when an officer is arrested on a felony charge. The council, which is responsible for certifying the state’s law enforcement officers, has discretion to review Hill’s fitness to be certified after this arrest, a misdemeanor.
POST, according to its bylaws, can discipline an officer “engaged in any unprofessional, unethical, deceptive, or deleterious conduct or practice harmful to the public.” The bylaws go on to describe the term “unprofessional conduct” as actions that “include any departure from, or failure to conform to, the minimal standards of acceptable and prevailing practice of an officer.”
Hill had his POST certification suspended in 2012 after he was indicted following his first term. He was acquitted more than a year later.
Bill Crane, a crisis management consultant, said Hill needs to be more forthcoming about the incident to avoid reputational harm.
“There are still way more questions than there are answers,” he said.
Hill is the second high-level law enforcement official to be charged in a shooting recently.
Former Peachtree City Police Chief William McCollom was indicted by a Fayette County grand jury last month on a reckless conduct charge in connection with a New Year’s Day shooting that left his former wife paralyzed.
McCollom resigned as police chief March 11.