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28 April 2013

Technicality in State Law May Keep Victor Hill in Office Despite Suspended POST Certification

Victor Hill is the elected Sheriff of Clayton County.

Clayton County voters returned Victor Hill to office, despite the multiple count indictment filed against him in court. These charges are currently pending, and until they are finally disposed of at trial --through conviction or acquittal-- the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) Council said the P.O.S.T. certification of Victor Hill is suspended.

11Alive reporter Doug Richards labeled Victor Hill a "sheriff without a badge and a gun," due to the fact that, without P.O.S.T. certification, Victor Hill cannot arrest anyone [Richards, Doug (22 August 2012). Victor Hill: A sheriff without a badge and a gun?. WXIA-TV Atlanta. Retrieved on 28 April 2013.].

Another Atlanta television station, WSB-TV, reported, "State law requires an elected sheriff to be certified within six months of taking office."

Ryan Powell, who is the Georgia P.O.S.T. Council Operations Division Director, told WSB, "[Victor Hill] cannot [become certified] if he's still suspended."

Steve Frey, one of Victor Hill's attorneys, disagrees and says there's a lot of ambiguity in the state law governing the qualifications and eligibility of county sheriffs.

The entire code section, O.C.G.A. § 15-16-1(c)(1)(J), reads as follows:

Steve Frey argues, "[Victor Hill] is certified."

"[State law] doesn't say it has to be valid certification," Frey told the Clayton News-Daily in an interview. "I don't think there will be a problem at all" [Jefcoats, Kathy (17 January 2013). Hill deputies resolving POST issues. Clayton News-Daily. Retrieved on 28 April 2013.].
No person shall be eligible to hold the office of sheriff unless such person: Is a registered peace officer as provided in Code Section 35-8-10 or is a certified peace officer as defined in Chapter 8 of Title 35. Any person who is not a registered or certified peace officer at the time such person assumes the office of sheriff shall be required to complete satisfactorily the requirements for certification as a peace officer as provided in Chapter 8 of Title 35 within six months after such person takes office; provided, however, that an extension of the time to complete such requirements may be granted by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council upon the presentation of evidence by a sheriff that he or she was unable to complete the basic training course and certification requirements due to illness, injury, military service, or other reasons deemed sufficient by such council. The Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council shall make every effort to ensure that space is available for newly elected sheriffs who are not certified or registered peace officers to attend the course as soon as possible after such persons take office. Such council shall notify the appropriate judge of the probate court whenever a newly elected sheriff who is not certified fails to become certified as a peace officer pursuant to the requirements of this subparagraph.”

Steve Frey argues, "[Victor Hill] is certified."

"[State law] doesn't say it has to be valid certification," Frey told the Clayton News-Daily in an interview. "I don't think there will be a problem at all" [Jefcoats, Kathy (17 January 2013). Hill deputies resolving POST issues. Clayton News-Daily. Retrieved on 28 April 2013.].

Technically, Steve Frey appears to be correct.

Victor Hill is a certified peace officer. His certification is suspended, not revoked. Suspended.

The Georgia P.O.S.T. Council did not revoke Victor Hill's certification. They suspended it. And the state law that governs the qualifications and eligibility of county sheriffs says, "No person shall be eligible to hold the office of sheriff unless such person: Is a registered peace officer as provided in Code Section 35-8-10 or is a certified peace officer as defined in Chapter 8 of Title 35.."

O.C.G.A. § 15-16-1(c)(1)(J) does not say anything about peace officer needing to have valid certification from the Georgia P.O.S.T. Council. The law says no person shall be eligible to hold the office of sheriff unless such person is a registered peace officer or a certified peace officer. Victor Hill is a suspended certified peace officer, and he shall remain a certified peace officer until the Georgia P.O.S.T. Council revokes his certification; which may or may not happen, depending on the outcome of Victor Hill's criminal trial.

Victor Hill and his legal team already upended Georgia campaign finance law when they successfully argued in court that there is no crime of using campaign funds for personal use. Clayton County Superior Court Judge Albert Collier dismissed five charges against Victor Hill, based on a technicality in state law that, as Judge Collier wrote in his ruling, "restricts use, but does not determine ownership."

Now they are poised to turn another section of Georgia law on its head due to another "gray area," as attorney Steve Frey calls it.