JONESBORO, Ga. – A newly elected sheriff who deployed snipers to the roof of his jail on his first day in office, then fired more than two dozen people, has been ordered to rehire them.
Victor Hill (search), who started as sheriff in suburban Clayton County Monday, called 27 department employees to the jail, stripped them of their guns and badges, and had his new chief deputy hand them photocopied dismissal papers.
Sheriff's department snipers stood guard on the roof of the jail as the fired workers were escorted out. Because they were no longer allowed to use their county cars, some former deputies were driven home in vans normally used to transport prisoners.
On Tuesday, a judge ordered the new sheriff to immediately rehire them.
"It appears ... that employees of the Sheriff were terminated without cause and in violation of the provisions of the Clayton County Civil Service system," Clayton Superior Court Judge Stephen Boswell (search) wrote in his order.
Hill, 39, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he fired the employees to "maintain the integrity of the department."
The firings had a racial overtone. Hill was among a spate of black candidates elected last year in the county once dominated by rural whites. The county seat, Jonesboro (search), was the setting for the fictional plantation Tara in "Gone With The Wind."
The fired sheriff's employees included four of the highest-ranking officers, all of them white. Hill told the newspaper their replacements would be black.
Hill's firings sparked outrage by another of the newly elected black officials. Eldrin Bell (search), new county commission chairman and former Atlanta police chief, called Hill's firings unlawful and filed for a 30-day restraining order, which Boswell granted Tuesday.
Hill, who also is keeping armed guards to protect him and his home, defended the tactics to the newspaper for a Monday story.
He cited the assassination four years ago of DeKalb County Sheriff Derwin Brown, another black sheriff in a nearby county who fired deputies when he took over.
"Derwin Brown sent out letters to 25 to 30 people letting them know they would not be reappointed when he took office," Hill said. "Just before he took office, he was shot and killed."
Brown was gunned down in the driveway of his home on Dec. 15, 2000, three days before he was to be sworn in.
Former DeKalb Sheriff Sidney Dorsey, who was ousted by Brown in a contentious election, was convicted of ordering the hit and sentenced to life in prison.
Hill said he posted snipers on the roof for security reasons.
Hill is a former state legislator and police detective who clashed with some county commissioners and a local police chief before running for office. While in the Georgia House, Hill unsuccessfully pushed a bill that would have put Clayton County's police operations under the command of the sheriff's department, which has 345 employees.
Hill said the firings are justified by Georgia law, which he said allows the sheriff to run his department as he sees fit.
"A lot of people are under the impression that the sheriff's office is under civil service laws," he said. "But my research shows the employees work at the pleasure of the sheriff."