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Lawman charged in shooting vows to continue as sheriff

This undated photo provided by the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department shows Victor Hill. The Atlanta-area sheriff was charged with a misdemeanor Wednesday, May 6, 2015, in the shooting of a real estate agent at a model home. (Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department via AP)

JONESBORO, Ga. (AP) — A day after he was charged with reckless conduct in the shooting of a real estate agent, a Georgia sheriff called it a “tragic accident” and vowed to continue his law enforcement duties.

Meanwhile, a Georgia police standards group said it’s opening an investigation into the case.

Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill shot Gwenevere McCord, 43, in the model home of a new subdivision near Lawrenceville on Sunday, police said. Hill told a 911 dispatcher he was conducting police training exercises and accidentally shot her, authorities said.

“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 said in a written statement Thursday.

Hill also asked for continued prayers for McCord, who was hospitalized in critical condition.

No alcohol or drugs were involved, according to a police report obtained Thursday by The Associated Press. Police haven’t released Hill’s 911 call.

Hill was arrested Wednesday on a charge of reckless conduct — a misdemeanor — and released on bond later Wednesday.

Authorities have said that Hill and McCord, who are friends, were alone in the model home in Gwinnett County, about 50 miles northeast of Hill’s office.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter has said he has questions about Hill’s statement to the dispatcher that he accidentally shot McCord during training exercises.

McCord, shot in the abdomen, has been unable to tell investigators what happened and Hill has refused to do so, Porter said Wednesday.

Hill was allowed to leave the scene without giving an official statement, investigators have said. Porter said he was told by Hill’s lawyer that the sheriff would not be speaking with investigators.

“It would certainly assist the investigation if we had his side of the facts, but that’s his choice to make,” Porter said. “I can’t force him to.”

Lawyer Drew Findling, who has represented Hill previously, didn’t return messages from The Associated Press Wednesday or Thursday.

Hill gave his cellphone to investigators at the scene and also turned over the clothing he was wearing and both guns he had at the time, Porter said.

Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council Executive Director Ken Vance said Hill’s misdemeanor charge is unlikely to have any immediate impact on his ability to serve as sheriff, but the organization is opening an investigation into whether Hill will be able to retain his certification to be a law enforcement officer.

If the charge is upgraded to a felony, Hill’s certification will be immediately suspended, Vance said.

Terry Norris, director of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, said if an official is indicted on a felony charge the governor can appoint a panel to recommend whether sanctions should be imposed.

“If a public official, including a sheriff, is convicted of a felony then he’s removed from office,” Norris said.

Hill’s case has been a topic of lively discussion in Jonesboro, the Clayton County seat. With few details available, local residents are forming their own theories.

A few who are critical of Hill said they didn’t want their names used in an article. Some others had a more nuanced response Thursday.

“I don’t think the whole thing’s gonna blow over,” Glenn Taylor said outside a barber shop on Tara Boulevard. “Accident or no accident, it looks bad for the community.”

Taylor and others questioned why authorities allowed Hill to leave the shooting scene without giving a statement to investigators, but said they understand why Hill has kept quiet thus far.

“Of course he’s a sheriff, he’s a public official, he’s a law enforcement official and he’s involved in a legal case so you want him to be open about it. But he’s protecting himself, so you can’t blame him,” Taylor said.

Lynwood Howard of Jonesboro said, “I say let the law play itself out.”

Howard voted for Hill and said he supports him despite the questions surrounding the shooting and Hill’s response. He doesn’t blame Hill for keeping silent.

“I say he did the right thing because all he got charged with is a misdemeanor,” Taylor said. “He could have talked his way to a felony.”

Hill’s time as sheriff in the county south of Atlanta has been tumultuous.

He was voted out of office in 2008, but won it back again in 2012 despite facing more than two dozen criminal charges in a corruption case. A jury later acquitted him of all 27 charges, including theft and giving false statements. That cleared the way for Hill to continue as sheriff.

Hill’s POST certification was suspended when he was under indictment.

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Associated Press writer Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this story.

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