Georgia sheriff who shot and wounded friend was acquitted in previous case

Lawman says 'training tactics' in Atlanta-area model home led to 'tragic accident' in which he shot a friend

The first black sheriff in Clayton County, where Margaret Mitchell set her novel "Gone With the Wind," is used to controversy. An avid Batman fan who portrays himself as tough on crime, Victor Hill operates his jail as a boot camp and has deployed military tanks on drug raids. A columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution once dubbed him a "tyrant in uniform."

On his first day in office in 2005, Hill stationed snipers on the roof as he fired 27 employees and stripped them of their guns. A judge eventually ordered that the workers be rehired, and the county paid millions to resolve their lawsuit.

Hill lost his reelection bid in 2008 but won the post again in 2012 — despite an indictment on 27 felony charges of racketeering, theft by taking, false statements and violating his oath of office. He was acquitted.

Now the sheriff, 50, faces a reckless-conduct misdemeanor charge after what he calls a "tragic accident" — shooting a friend while conducting what he described as "police training tactics" inside a model home in Lawrenceville, an Atlanta suburb.

Hill and Gwenevere McCord, a 43-year-old real estate agent, were alone in the house when she was wounded in the abdomen. McCord is in critical condition and cannot speak, but she told paramedics the shooting was unintentional, authorities said.

When Hill turned himself in on May 6, he declined to talk to investigators. He was released on a $2,950 bond.

The next day, in a brief statement on social media, he called the shooting a "tragic accident" and vowed to continue as sheriff.

"I want to thank you all for your continued prayers for Gwenevere, and ask that you continue to keep her and her family lifted in prayer," Hill wrote. "While focused on the recovery and healing of Gwenevere, I will simultaneously continue with my duties and responsibilities as the sheriff of Clayton County."

Hill's attorneys did not respond to telephone requests for comment.

Gwinnett County Dist. Atty. Danny Porter said the sheriff had repeatedly refused to speak with investigators, including on the night of the shooting on May 3, but the initial 911 call raised questions about whether he was negligent with his firearm and acted without reasonable regard for safety.

In the 5:39 p.m. call, Hill described the shooting as an accident that happened while he was "practicing police tactics," Porter said.

"The legal, hypothetical question is: Is it a reasonable exercise to run police tactics in an open model home on a Sunday afternoon?" the prosecutor said in a telephone interview, before Gwinnett County police announced they would seek charges. "There are things that make me question the reasonableness of practicing police tactics in a business open to the public."

Hill is extensively trained and highly qualified to handle firearms, Porter said. "He's not just some guy who plays video games and plays war movies."

The prosecutor said he could not reveal specifics about evidence at the scene, but said he had questions about where the wounded McCord was lying and the location of weapons.

A change in McCord's condition could result in additional charges, Porter said. If she were to die, Hill could be charged with felony involuntary manslaughter, which carries up to 10 years in prison.

"Theoretically, she could wake up and tell us a completely different story," Porter said. "But I suspect she probably won't remember."

Hill and his Clayton County command staff have been less than fully cooperative, Porter said. When Gwinnett County detectives responded to the 911 call, several members of Hill's staff — based 50 miles southwest in Jonesboro — were already there, Porter said. They initially declined to provide statements to investigators, and did not agree to do so until May 5, Porter said.

Before Hill left the shooting scene, he turned over his clothing, his car, two guns and a cellphone to Gwinnett County police officers, but did not speak to investigators, Porter said.

"He cooperated up to the point of giving a statement," the prosecutor said, adding that Hill's attorney told him not to expect the sheriff to offer his version of events.

Hill's future in Clayton County law enforcement is uncertain. Four days after the shooting, the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, the main body responsible for certifying the state's law enforcement officers, announced it had opened an inquiry. Its investigators will monitor the Gwinnett County Police Department and district attorney's case, but the council is unlikely to reach a significant decision before the criminal case is resolved, a spokesman said.

According to the council's bylaws, an officer would be disqualified from employment and law enforcement certification if convicted of a felony, but not of a misdemeanor. The group can discipline officers who engage in "unprofessional conduct" harmful to the public, putting them on probation or permanently revoking their certification.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, has the authority to convene a panel of sheriffs to investigate Hill's ability to serve while under criminal charges. But he did not do so after the 2012 election when Hill faced felony charges.

This is not the first reportedly accidental shooting involving a Georgia law enforcement officer to raise suspicions this year. Former Peachtree City Police Chief William McCollom was indicted last month on reckless-conduct charges after a New Year's Day shooting left his then-wife paralyzed. McCollom told investigators he had fallen asleep in bed with his gun when he accidentally shot Margaret McCollom in the back.

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