Video footage has just been released showing misconduct by a notorious former sheriff in Clayton County, Georgia. That footage resulted in his conviction for federal civil rights violations, for which he is about to face sentencing. In other words, here’s yet another rare, but great, example of law enforcement being held accountable for civil rights violations in the best possible way – criminal prosecution.
Victor Hill, the former sheriff of Clayton County, Georgia, was charged with seven counts of willfully depriving detainees at the Clayton County Jail of their constitutional right to be free from unreasonable force by law enforcement officers. Specifically, the grand jury who indicted him alleged that Hill caused the seven victims to be strapped into restraint chairs at the jail without any legitimate nonpunitive governmental purpose and for a period exceeding that justified by any legitimate nonpunitive governmental purpose. The grand jury further alleged that these offenses caused physical pain and resulted in bodily injury to the victims.
The trial is already over. On October 26, 2022, a jury convicted Hill on six of the seven counts. As to each of those six guilty counts, the jury further found that the offense caused physical pain and resulted in bodily injury to 6 different victims.
The reason you’re seeing this now is because some of that footage was just released. The released footage shows the restraint of Robert Arnold, who was booked into the jail on February 25, 2020. He was accused of assaulting two women inside a Forest Park grocery store earlier that month.
“What was you doing in Clayton County that day?” Sheriff Hill asked Arnold.
“It’s a democracy, sir. It’s the United States,” Arnold replied.
“No, it’s not. Not in my county,” responded Sheriff Hill.
When Arnold challenged Sheriff Hill on his right “to a fair and speedy trial,” Hill told sheriff’s office employees to bring him a restraint chair.
“Roll that chair ’round here,” ordered Sheriff Hill. “Roll that chair ’round here.”
According to a 2018 policy approved by Hill, restraint chairs “may be used by security staff to provide safe containment of an inmate exhibiting violent or uncontrollable behavior and to prevent self-injury, injury to others or property damage when other control techniques are not effective.”
Prosecutors also introduced surveillance videos from inside the jail that showed Sheriff Hill’s interactions with Glenn Howell on April 27, 2020. Howell, a landscaper, had a dispute with a Clayton County Sheriff’s Office deputy about payment for work that Howell did on the deputy’s property. Sheriff Hill called Howell to try to intervene and the conversation became heated. When Howell tried to contact Hill again, Hill obtained a warrant for Howell’s arrest on a charge of harassing communications. Howell turned himself in a few days later.
In the surveillance video, Howell is pictured sitting on a bench for several minutes. He appears to follow commands as an intake officer searches him and processes his belongings. At one point, prosecutors pointed out, jail staff left Howell alone in the intake area—something attorneys argued they would not have done if Howell was a threat. Footage shows Sheriff Hill arriving about an hour later and speaking to Howell in the hallway. Less than a minute into the conversation, Howell is placed into a waiting restraint chair.
The sheriff’s office restraint chair policy explains that officers should remove someone from the device “when they have determined that there is no longer a threat to self or others, or the inmate must be transported to another facility.” Multiple witnesses, however, testified that when Sheriff Hill ordered someone into a restraint chair, it was understood that person was not to be released for four hours, the maximum allowed under the policy.
I’ve been asked to do something on the Murdaugh trial. I want to bring you some inside information about what really happened at the Murdaugh trial. So I reached out to my colleague Larry Foreman. You may know him as The DUI Guy+ from Youtube. He covered much of the Johnny Depp trial from inside the courtroom, and also was able to get into the Alex Murdaugh trial in South Carolina. So I figured, who better to hear from than Larry. He was in the courtroom, sitting right next to some of these people, watching the reaction of the jurors, and so on. Like me, he’s a real lawyer with real courtroom experience that you can watch yourself on his channel.
Breaking news out of federal court in South Carolina, where a federal jury has just awarded a $550,000 verdict against a former Richland County Sheriff’s deputy, as well as the sheriff’s department itself.
Here are the relevant case documents, including the complaint, jury instructions, verdict form, as well as the full deposition transcript of one of the officers:
Today’s video is about Matthew Souter, who owns a farmhouse in The Plains, Virginia. He ended up being unlawfully arrested and tased by police officers in his front yard. Back in November of 2018. He rented a bedroom and bathroom in his home to Melissa Johnson. Following a dispute about her cat and an electric hotplate, she went to a local court and obtained an ex parte Emergency Protective Order (“EPO”) against Mr. Souter, which restricted him from “acts of violence, force, or threat of criminal offenses resulting in injury to person or property” of Johnson.
The next day, November 10, 2018, Johnson called the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office and reported that Plaintiff had violated the EPO by terminating the electric and water service to her bedroom and bathroom. She spoke with a deputy who took her complaint and classified it as a “civil matter.” Not satisfied with that, she called again later the same day. This time she spoke with a different deputy, who was dangerously incompetent. He ended up applying for an arrest warrant against Mr. Souter, alleging a violation of the EPO. There in fact was no violation – nor any reason for him to believe that Mr. Souter had committed any crime. But, he obtained an arrest warrant.
This deputy and his supervisor then traveled to Mr. Souter’s home with an arrest warrant. The deputies seized Mr. Souter. I spoke with Mr. Souter on the phone and he denies resisting this arrest. However, in a subsequent ruling, the federal court wrote that it was undisputed that he resisted arrest. This is what the Court found, specifically: “Plaintiff resisted arrest and did not permit the officers to handcuff him. The officers then wrestled the Plaintiff to the ground, while Plaintiff continued to resist the officers. McCauley then used a taser to subdue the Plaintiff. After Plaintiff was tased, the officers were able to handcuff the Plaintiff.” Mr. Souter was tased multiple times and was bleeding. He was taken to a local hospital emergency room.
The officers subsequently charged Souter with the underlying EPO violation, as well as attempted fleeing from a law enforcement officer. The EPO charge ended up being dismissed by the prosecutor, and he was found not guilty of the fleeing charge following the criminal trial.
Then Souter filed a federal section 1983 civil lawsuit. Here’s the complaint his lawyer filed:
Fast forward in the litigation, and something pretty unusual ended up happening. The federal judge – Judge Ellis – in the Eastern District of Virginia, not only denied qualified immunity to the officers, but granted summary judgment in favor of the Plaintiff. That means that the Court found that Mr. Souter’s civil rights were violated, as a matter of law, and that the only issue for the jury to decide is the amount of money damages to be awarded.
Why did the officers lose qualified immunity, as well as the opportunity to even oppose liability in front of the jury? In short, because they acted such utter incompetence. The Fourth Amendment protects against citizens being unlawfully arrested by law enforcement. An unlawful arrest is one that occurs in the absence of probable cause. Police officers can be held civilly liable for a false arrest “if it would have been clear to reasonable officers in their position that they lacked probable cause to arrest” Plaintiff for violating the cited law. Graham v. Gagnon (4th Cir. 2016).
The officers aren’t required to be actually correct in their probable cause determination, but rather reasonable in their probable cause determination. Here’s the Court’s full opinion:
In this case, all the officers knew is the allegation that the Plaintiff had cut off Johnson’s water and electric service. There was no reasonable basis for them to conclude that the Plaintiff had engaged in any act of violence, force, or threat, against Johnson. Thus, if they believed Plaintiff had done any of those acts, such a belief would have been clearly erroneous and unreasonable.
The arrest warrant the officers obtained alleged violation of a domestic violence type of protective order, which did not exist in this case. No such domestic violence type of protective order had been issued against the Plaintiff, as would be obvious on the face of the actual EPO served on the Plaintiff. Moreover, even if Plaintiff had been served with a domestic violence protective order, cutting off water and electric do not constitute acts of violence, as defined in the EPO. Therefore, Plaintiff’s conduct could not have led a reasonable law enforcement officer to conclude that probable cause existed or that his arrest was proper. Thus they violated his constitutional rights when they unlawfully arrested him (and used force to effectuate that arrest) in the absence of probable cause.
The illegality of Plaintiff’s arrest taints the defendant officers’ subsequent actions and renders them liable for Plaintiff’s excessive force claims. Under federal law, “the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable seizures bars police officers from using excessive force to seize a free citizen.” Jones v. Buchanan (4th Cir. 2003).
Let’s fast forward to the trial results. The jury ended up awarding a total of $50,000.00 in compensatory damages to Mr. Souter. Here’s the jury verdict form:
In my phone conversation with Mr. Souter, he was actually very unhappy with the verdict, both in the amount of $50,000.00, as well as the lack of a punitive damages award. He took issue with how the presentation of the damages claim was presented to the jury at trial.
For many reasons, people many times have unrealistic expectations on the value of damages in civil rights cases. At the end of the day, a jury decides these things. This can vary wildly depending on a number of factors, including the personalities of the parties, as well as the jurors themselves. I wasn’t at this trial, so I really have no idea what dynamics were present in the courtroom. But this illustrates one of the difficult parts of the job of a civil rights lawyer. Ultimately you have to convince a jury to award money damages. How do you do that? It can be very difficult, and sometimes emotion is all you have, assuming you can instill it in the hearts of the jurors.
There’s a form instruction in section 1983 cases that says something to the effect of, if you find that the plaintiff’s civil rights were violated, you must at least award $1.00, even if you find that the plaintiff suffered no actual damages. The value of constitutional injuries can vary wildly based on who is on the jury. But there’s also a federal law, 42 U.S.C. Section 1988, which provides for an award of reasonable attorney fees following a finding of liability. That means that even if a jury awards One Dollar, there could potentially be an attorney fee award of six figures.
Big update in Chris Wiest’s case in Kentucky, where several Kentucky police officers are being held accountable for their misconduct. Tonight he joined me for a live video, and we discussed developments in the case, at length. This is the case where the officers denied (under oath) striking the guy they were arresting, later finding out that video footage showed otherwise. This led to Officer Thomas Czartorski later being charged with perjury.
Update video with the footage:
Here’s the recent court order in the case, discussed in the videos:
There’s a jury trial in Euclid, Ohio this week where Euclid police officer, Michael Amiott is being prosecuted for a use of force incident following the 2017 traffic stop of Richard Hubbard. Amiott is charged with two counts of assault and one count of interfering with civil rights. Cell phone video showed the officer repeatedly punching Richard Hubbard after he was pulled over for an unspecified moving violation.
Hubbard was accused of resisting arrest after allegedly refusing Amiott’s orders, and the ensuing struggle resulted in Hubbard being hit multiple times while on the ground. The criminal charges against Hubbard were later dropped, and while he suffered no permanent injuries, the city later agreed to a $450,000 settlement with both him and the owner of the car he was driving.
Following a 45-day suspension, Euclid Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer Gail fired Amiott from the police force, but an independent arbitrator reinstated him a year later. Nevertheless, Amiott was arrested and charged in Euclid Municipal Court in August of 2019 following further investigation, and his trial was subsequently delayed two years by COVID-19.
The entire trial has been live streamed on Youtube by WKYC and some of the testimony has been interesting. This is what we’re dealing with by the way, in the mission to obtain some accountability where citizens are violently victimized by the government.
Also, this isn’t his only excessive force incident:
About 7 months ago, I posted a video about a West Virginia police officer, Everette Maynard, formerly of the Logan, WV Police Department who was found guilty by a federal jury of violating an arrestee’s civil rights by using excessive force. This was caught on video. This is the one where the officer was caught by a surveillance camera flipping the bird to the camera.
Today I talked to one of the investigators involved with that prosecution and thought I would give you an update video about what ended up happening to Officer Maynard. The DOJ recently issued another press release on the case, announcing that former-Officer Everette Maynard has been sentenced to 9 years of prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised release due to his conviction of violating an arrestee’s civil rights by using excessive force against him.
In the video I posted late last year, I showed you the actual photos presented to the jury during the trial, and I went over the actual jury instructions used in that case. Here’s the video:
This is a rare case of a police officer being held accountable in the most important way. He received almost a decade in prison for his actions. The U.S. Department of Justice had this to say about the sentencing of Maynard:
“This defendant’s abuse of law enforcement authority inside a police station was egregious and caused serious injuries,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Police misconduct undermines community trust in law enforcement, and impedes effective policing. This sentence confirms that law enforcement officers who use excessive force against arrestees will be held accountable.”
Title 18, United States Code, Section 242 makes it a crime to deprive any person of his civil rights under color of law. For a jury to find the defendant guilty, the federal prosecutors must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt at trial:
1. The defendant acted under color of law;
2. The defendant deprived the victim of a right secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States – here, the right of an arrestee to be free from unreasonable seizures, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer;
3. The defendant acted willfully; and
4. The defendant’s acts resulted in bodily injury to the arrestee.
(NOTE: elements 1 and 2 are by themselves a misdemeanor; when elements 3 and 4 are present, it rises to the level of a felony.)
On Nov. 17, 2021, a federal jury convicted Maynard of using excessive force against an arrestee while Maynard was a police officer with the Logan Police Department in West Virginia. At trial, the jury heard evidence that Maynard assaulted the victim in the bathroom of the Logan Police Department before dragging him into an adjoining room, hauling him across the room, and ramming his head against a doorframe.
The assault initially rendered the victim unconscious and left him with a broken shoulder, a broken nose, and a cut to his head that required staples to close. While the defendant assaulted the victim, the defendant berated the victim for “making demands” of him by, among other things, asking to go to the bathroom. After the assault left the victim unconscious in a pool of his own blood, the defendant bragged about his use of force.
It’s important to note that, in this actual case, the jury was instructed that a police officer “may not use force merely because an arrestee questions an officer’s authority, insults the officer, uses profanity, or otherwise engages in verbal provocation – unless the force was otherwise objectively reasonable at the time it was used. Additionally, the jurors were instructed that an officer may not use force solely to punish, retaliate against, or seek retribution against another person.
These sorts of unnecessary uses of violent force against arrestees, if true, can never be reasonable.
How did the jurors know that it happened this way? Because it was captured on video, which is by-far the most important tool available to us for constitutional accountability. The police certainly like to use video evidence against the public in their prosecutions. But they don’t like it when it happens to them. In this case however, I’m told that it was actually a law enforcement officer who originally blew the whistle on this guy to federal investigators. Good for that individual. There needs to be more of this. And I have reason to believe that there will be more of this in West Virginia.
A dozen or so people sent me this media story over the weekend involving a West Virginia judge who has been accused of pulling a gun in his courtroom, mocking the “man purse” of a Texas lawyer’s ex-CIA private security contractor, and otherwise treating her abusively and unfairly. It was first published in the Daily Beast, and also was published in the WV Record on Friday. Now it’s even made the Daily Mail. This involves West Virginia state court Circuit Court Judge David Hummel, in the small town of New Martinsville, in Wetzel County, West Virginia, who presided over a trial regarding gas royalty payments to landowners back in March, being tried by a Texas corporate attorney, Lauren Varnado. She is apparently the source of the allegations. Despite this going viral in the national news, I’m going to point out something to you that I think they may have overlooked. More on that in a minute.
(ETA: For some reason the Youtube version of the video cut-off the end of the video. Here’s the Facebook version, which has my full video: https://fb.watch/emqkmtitvS/ )
Varnado describes a hostile relationship with the judge after asking him to recuse himself based on a conflict of interest involving the judge’s parents receiving gas royalty payments. She also described a hostile relationship with the local community, requiring professional security. I’m pretty sure this has happened before in West Virginia. Angry locals, armed corporate security, and good ‘ole boy judges. Varnado ended up going to the FBI. And apparently, the Daily Beast. I don’t live in this region in West Virginia, so this is the first I’m hearing of the underlying conflict, or these allegations. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of this judge, and I’m certain that I’ve never appeared before him.
In any event, the Daily Beast reported that Judge Hummel “whipped out his handgun, waved it in the air and left it on the bench with the barrel pointing directly at corporate lawyers who had irritated him.” This is supposed to have occurred on a Saturday, out of the presence of the jury.
At first, Hummel told the Daily Beast that never happened. Then, he told the reporter he kept the gun, a Colt .45, in a secret drawer in his bench. Then, he said he was wearing a holstered gun under his robe during the trial the previous week. But he said it was a long, classic-looking revolver from the Wild West days called a Colt Peacemaker. Then, Hummel told the reporter he did show Varnado a first aid kit.
“But it was casual,” Hummel told the Daily Beast reporter. “I did show her a foiled packet and said this is blood coagulant. We have preparations for active shooter situations.”
The firearm incident from the Saturday hearing occurred after the Texas defense team attempted to remove Judge Hummel from the case over an alleged conflict of interest. According to the Daily Beast article:
[T]he gas company’s lawyers accused the judge of never disclosing that his parents get gas company royalties that may someday pass on to him—sparking questions about a glaring conflict of interest. When the gas company’s lawyers sought to disqualify him, court transcripts show he grew increasingly aggravated at Varnado and her team.
At an April 2021 court hearing in which he was asked about his family’s gas interests, the transcript shows how the judge patronized EQT’s lawyers as he detailed his family tree and dismissed their concerns, ranting about how his cousin “Christy” got mad at him for not recognizing her at a wedding. When the attempt to have higher state courts disqualify him failed, Hummel started the next court hearing in similar fashion.
Varnado claims that the firearm was a constant part of the litigation. I’m not opposed to that in theory. But here’s what she said, specifically:
“The first time I saw Judge Hummel with a firearm was at the Huey pretrial conference at the Wetzel County Courthouse on March 1, 2022,” she said in an affidavit. “At the pretrial conference, Judge Hummel wore a black handgun in a holster on his hip with his judicial robe unzipped.”
During the trial, she said Hummel would walk around the courtroom with his robe unzipped and the firearm visible.
“I asked Judge Hummel during a break in trial about his firearm,” Varnado said in the affidavit. “Judge Hummel confirmed that the gun was a Colt .45 handgun. He wore the gun in a holster without exception throughout the trial.”
Why were guns even being discussed in the first place? Apparently the gas royalty trial involved perceived safety threats to the Texas legal team, who says that they hired ex-CIA officers as professional security. However, the judge didn’t allow the security team into the courtroom. Instead, Judge Hummel is alleged to have stood up, opened his robe, pulled his gun out of the holster on his hep and held it in his right hand, stating “I promise you, I’ll take care of them.” It sounds like the Judge called one of the ex-CIA guys, who was wearing a “man purse,” which he called, “such a sissy-ass contraption.” Judge Hummel then said, “Aren’t me and my guns and security enough?” and said, “My guns are bigger than your security’s guns,” pointing the barrel of his pistol towards the Texas attorneys.
Varnado signed an affidavit stating that, “Judge Hummel then set his gun down on the judicial bench and deliberately rotate the firearm (as it laid on the bench) until the barrel of the gun was pointing directly at me.” She alleges that the handgun remained on the bench, pointed at her, for the duration of the hearing. And then some:
The gun stayed there for the rest of the hearing. When the attorneys were directed to negotiate in a private room, they found the handgun still waiting for them when they returned. When lawyers had to approach the judge, the resting gun remained pointed at their faces.
One thing about this. In the Daily Mail article, they showed a photo of the inside of this particular courtroom. Here it is is. One thing that caught my attention was that it doesn’t necessarily appear that lawyers in the room would be able to see a gun, or the direction in which it was pointing, if it was sitting on the bench directly in front of the judge. Here’s the photo:
Maybe Varnado was referring to a different table, or perhaps the photo is either the wrong courtroom, or misleading as to the angles involved. It’s also possible that they only saw it when they walked into, or out of, the negotiation room. But in any event, she went to the FBI following the hearing.
Varnado says she contacted the FBI’s Pittsburgh office immediately following the hearing. After that phone call, she made a written report to the FBI via email. The next day, she says she had a second phone call with the FBI. On March 16, she met with the FBI in Pittsburgh.
She says she didn’t report the incident to the state Judicial Investigation Commission or any law enforcement in West Virginia because “we were – and still are – afraid.”
Varnado further alleges that the firearms discussion was not included in the certified transcript of the hearing – that she saw Judge Hummel gesturing to the court reported to go on or off the record, whenever he wanted to keep things out of the transcript. This included any discussion of Varnado’s ex-CIA security detail.
“The whole trial was insane,” she told The Record. “Why does a judge need to exert more power over us than he already can? Why would he need a gun in his courtroom?
“He took the Huey case extremely personally for some reason. I still don’t understand why. There was nothing super controversial about it, but he took it very personally.
“And yes, I am from out of state. I know what that means. I don’t really care if he likes me. I just tried to do the best job I could do that I was hired to do. But a courtroom, for a trial attorney, that is your workplace.
“My heart just breaks for the people who have to endure that every day. They don’t have a choice. They’re the real victims. It isn’t about me. If it’s happening to me, way worse things are happening to people who are pro se or indigent.”
The Daily Beast article noted that Judge Hummel is now under investigation, and that some of the judge’s own staff are corroborating the allegation that the judge displayed a gun:
That judge is now under investigation by the state’s judiciary for violating the profession’s code of conduct, according to three witnesses now sharing information with law enforcement and official communications about the investigation reviewed by The Daily Beast. The judge’s own staff has since told an investigator that the judge did, in fact, display his gun openly during an attorneys-only hearing and boasted about having it in his possession, according to two of those witnesses.
The Daily Beast also reported that, although Judge Hummel said there’s no recording of the incident, that a state investigator has acquired a videotape of the interaction. Does this refer to surveillance footage? Was one of the Texas lawyers surreptitiously videoing what was happening? We’ll find out at some point, if the state judicial disciplinary authorities end up charging or publicly admonishing Judge Hummel.
I don’t know what the truth is here. But I do know that one of the reasons I only litigate civil rights violations in federal court, in West Virginia, is because in the state courts you can sometimes deal with what I call the “welcome stranger tax,” which is a good ‘ole boy type biased judge, who treats you unfairly. I personally experienced this in another faraway county in West Virginia, where the local judge refused to let my client out of jail on a Friday, until I drove back to my office 3 hours away, to prepare the order to release him. I asked to use the judge’s computer to prepare a quick order, and he said no, stating that my client should have hired a local attorney, instead of someone from out of town.
I don’t know if that’s the case here, or if this is being blown out of proportion. What I do know is that the judicial investigators have the capability of getting at the truth. They get to take a sworn statement of the judge regarding the allegations. I presume they’ve already done that. They get to subpoena witnesses. And it sounds like they’ve already obtained some statements, as well as some sort of video footage. I should be able to obtain the investigation report at some point with a public records request.
My conclusion here is that I don’t have one yet. I’m not opposed to a judge carrying, or discussing, or even presenting, firearms in a courtroom. But it’s all in the context. Nobody should ever point firearms at anyone – especially not in the context alleged here. Given everything I’ve learned about judges the past couple of years, I wouldn’t take anything off the table, but let’s wait and see what the investigation concludes before jumping the gun.
Update on the Family Court Judge Search Case: It was over two years ago – March 10, 2020 – when I uploaded a video on what was then my fairly new Youtube channel, showing the footage depicting a West Virginia Family Court Judge searching my client’s home. The judge ended up being charged with judicial disciplinary violations, which went all the way to the State Supreme Court, ending in a written censure to the judge, describing the search as serious misconduct, which was not a judicial activity authorized under state law. A federal Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit was filed, which I’ve documented extensively, and which I’ve spent hours upon hours litigating.
Today we had a pretrial conference in federal court and I want to give a quick update on where we stand. It looks like great news to me. It sounds like the Court has given the greenlight to a jury trial beginning on the 19th of this month. The Court has yet to rule on the pending issues surrounding the defendant judge’s assertion of judicial immunity. However, it noted that a ruling would be imminent – likely early next week. This forthcoming opinion will be extremely important in defining the parameters of judicial immunity, as these cases are extremely rare and difficult.
Be on the lookout. There will surely be an update on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week with the details of the Court’s ruling. I believe it’s going to come down to the fact that the State Supreme Court has already spoken on the judge’s conduct in this particular situation. The law of judicial immunity requires the Court to look at the nature of the activity, rather than the job title of the defendant. The State Supreme Court has already issued a final adjudication of the fact that judges in West Virginia do not engage in searches; that searches are an executive law enforcement function, and that the defendant doing so in this particular case is “serious misconduct” and an “egregious” misuse of power.
Lastly, the law enforcement defendants are still in the case, both as individual defendants, as well as in the Monell Claim alleging a 20 year practice and policy of Family Court judicial searches, which according to the deposition testimony of the defendant officers, continues to this day.