Georgia governors rarely start process to remove sheriffs

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ATLANTA — The Georgia Sheriff’s Association wants Gov. Nathan Deal to start proceedings for suspending Clayton County’s sheriff-elect as he prepares to take office despite facing a felony indictment, but recent history shows Georgia governors don’t like to get involved in such cases.

Georgia law allows governors to appoint the state’s attorney general and two fellow sheriffs to investigate and recommend whether a sheriff facing criminal or ethics charges should be suspended, with pay, pending the outcome of the case.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that’s a power governors are reluctant to wield. The sheriffs’ association has sought six such proceedings since 2004, but only once has a governor agreed to start the legal process for a sheriff’s removal.

The association hopes Deal will buck that trend and agree to seek suspension for Clayton County Sheriff-elect Victor Hill. He’s been indicted on 32 felony charges stemming from a prior term he served as sheriff from 2005 to 2008. Despite the legal troubles, Hill won a comeback bid in the November elections.

“We’re the sheriffs. We’re the ones who put people in jail for doing wrong,” said Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, who as president of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association is pushing for Hill’s suspension.

Still, governors have often been hesitant to intervene in what they consider local matters. In Hill’s case there’s also the potential for a racial outcry. Hill is black, as are most voters in Clayton County.

“We feel confident that whoever reviews the case for the governor will see right through this,” said Drew Findling, one of Hill’s defense attorneys. “You can’t ignore the racial element of their recommendation. It’s a complete slap in the face of the African-Americans in Clayton County.”

Deal’s office has said the governor won’t take any actions regarding Hill until the sheriff-elect takes office early next year.

The last time a Georgia governor appointed a committee to investigate a sheriff was in 2004, when Gov. Sonny Perdue began proceedings against Jenkins County Sheriff Bobby Womack. The sheriff was accused to using inmate labor at his logging business.

Womack resigned before Perdue’s committee reported its findings. He died three months later.


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