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Friday, September 13, 2013 - 2:38pm

Clayton County Sheriff Sued By Employees

Two Clayton County Sheriff's Office employees and a former employee have filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Victor Hill, accusing him of retaliating against them after they supported his political opponents.

Brian Crisp, Jeffrey Mitchell and Garland Watkins filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Hill, the sheriff's office, the county and Chief Deputy Shon Hill.

County attorney Jack Hancock said in an email he hasn't seen the lawsuit and has no comment.

Crisp, Mitchell and Watkins were all employed by the sheriff's office in 2004 when Victor Hill first ran for sheriff. All three actively and openly supported and campaigned for Hill's opponent, Sheriff Stanley Tuggle, the lawsuit says.

When Hill took office in January 2005, he fired Crisp, Watkins and a couple dozen other deputies and demoted Mitchell. A court later ordered Hill to reinstate the 27 deputies he had fired.

Later that year, Crisp, Mitchell and Watkins filed federal discrimination charges against the sheriff, saying the actions taken against them were based on race, age, political association and other factors protected under federal law.

A legal settlement in 2007 resulted in monetary payments and the transfer of some sheriff's office employees to other county positions. Crisp, Mitchell and Watkins were transferred to the county police department, the lawsuit says.

When Hill ran for re-election in 2008, the three backed his opponent, Kem Kimbrough, who ultimately won the election. All three were brought back to the sheriff's office under Kimbrough and each of them was promoted. Crisp became a captain, Mitchell became a major and Watkins became chief deputy.

While Kimbrough was sheriff, Crisp was assigned to investigate allegations of public corruption against Hill during his first term as sheriff. Hill was indicted in February 2012. The indictment accused him of taking money from his failed re-election campaign in 2008, as well as using county resources for vacations.

A Clayton County jury last month acquitted Hill of all charges.

Hill ran for sheriff again in 2012 and beat Kimbrough in the Democratic primary. Watkins launched a write-in campaign to challenge Hill in the November general election, but Hill was re-elected overwhelmingly despite being under indictment at the time.

He took office in January and "either directly, or through others, engaged in a retaliatory campaign of severe harassment and intimidation" against Crisp, Mitchell and Watkins, the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, Hill harassed and intimidated them by sending armed deputies to Watkins' home the first day he took office to seize Watkins' county vehicle; naming a new chief deputy to replace Watkins; demoting Crisp and Mitchell and assigning them to work that was below their rank, training and experience.

Because of this treatment, Watkins ended up resigning, the lawsuit says. Crisp and Mitchell remain employed by the sheriff's office. All three have lost wages and benefits and have suffered mental and emotional distress because of Hill's actions, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit accuses Hill of violating the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act and retaliating against Crisp, Mitchell and Watkins because they protested against discrimination and participated in a legal case against him. It also says he violated their free speech rights by retaliating against them for exercising their protected rights to campaign against him.

The lawsuit seeks general and punitive damages, back pay and benefits and asks a judge to order Hill to stop retaliating against them.

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