CLAYTON, Ga. -- Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill issued an order this week barring Clayton police detectives from interviewing inmates in the county jail, apparently in retaliation for not getting burglary statistics from police.
Clayton Police Chief Jeff Turner said Hill's actions Wednesday constitute obstruction of justice, and he plans to ask state officials to help reverse the order.
"He is definitely obstructing justice," Turner said, "especially in cases where there are additional victims or co-perpetrators still walking the streets. His actions are putting the public in harm's way, there's no way around that."
The order was signed by jail Maj. Lawrence Ethridge. Neither Hill nor Ethridge responded to a request for comment or clarification on this issue.
As in many Georgia counties, Clayton police investigate crimes and arrest suspects, and the Clayton sheriff operates the jail that houses them while they are awaiting trial.
Turner said his detectives went to the jail Friday morning to interview a child molestation suspect. They were turned away by staff members on orders from Hill and Ethridge, Turner said.
Hill reportedly sent word to the detectives through his staff that they would have access to inmates if the Police Department had provided information on burglary cases in the county, Turner said.
Hill apparently intends to form his own burglary task force, he said.
"But that information is accessible by him anyway through the county's computer system," Turner said. "He doesn't need our permission or help in getting that information. I guess he just wants us to do his job for him. This just shows how childish he is being."
This clash between Hill and Clayton County is the latest since Hill took office three years ago.
Hill kicked off his first day in office by firing more than two dozen deputies. A judge ordered them rehired, and a lawsuit followed. A $7 million settlement to the deputies was agreed to in June, but legal fees accounted for several million more.
In Georgia, besides operating the county jail, sheriffs typically serve warrants and maintain courthouses. But Hill has tried to expand on those services by forming specialized crime-fighting units that have existed at the Police Department for years.
Hill, a former police officer and colleague of Turner's, has made no secret that he wants to abolish the Police Department and transfer manpower and equipment to his office. He once sent Turner an e-mail admonishing him and signing it, "Your future employer."
Turner said Hill's latest antic is "disappointing."
"The citizens of Clayton County only want him to do the right thing, what's expected," Turner said. "And we want to do our jobs, which we can't do effectively."
Cooperation between jail officials and investigating law enforcement agencies is vital in preparing criminal prosecutions.
Henry County police Capt. Jason Bolton said criminal cases could not be made without access to incarcerated suspects.
"Oftentimes, the detective or officer is unable to interview a suspect before he or she is arrested, especially if the suspect doesn't want to be found," Bolton said.
"A jailhouse interview, once the person has been apprehended, may be the only opportunity law enforcement has to speak with a suspect and possibly obtain a confession," Bolton said. "To take that opportunity away from the investigating officer would seriously hinder the investigation."
Additionally, Hill will not allow mug shots to be given to detectives, hindering photo lineups, another investigative tool.
Bolton said access to the photos that are maintained at the jail is important."All of our photographic lineups come from mug shots maintained at the jail," Bolton said. "Being restricted from conducting lineups would leave quite a bit of cases unsolved."