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Georgia sheriff retains support after shooting woman

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 Georgia sheriff charged in the shooting of a real estate agent is retaining support in a county that also voted him back into office three years ago despite his indictment on more than two dozen felony ethics charges.

Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill was charged with reckless conduct in the shooting of 43-year-old real estate agent Gwenevere McCord on Sunday. He told a 911 dispatcher he was conducting police training exercises at the model home in Gwinnett County, which is far outside his jurisdiction.

Hill’s time as sheriff of Clayton County has been tumultuous. On his first day in office a decade ago, he fired more than two dozen deputies. He also used a military tank on drug raids as part of a tough-on-crime message.

Some residents interviewed by The Associated Press on Thursday said they think Hill has done well in his position, and they’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt while the case is investigated.

“A lot of people are just looking at the bad things, but aren’t looking at the good things,” Lynwood Howard of Jonesboro said outside a barbershop Thursday afternoon. Howard said he voted for Hill, and that the sheriff had run a lot of criminals out of town.

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 about what happened.

Hill told a 911 dispatcher he was conducting police training exercises and accidentally shot McCord, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter has said. Police haven’t released the 911 recording. McCord was shot in the abdomen and critically injured, and was not immediately able to speak with investigators.

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.

No alcohol or drugs were involved, according to a police report obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

Hill and McCord were in the house alone when McCord was shot. He left the scene without giving investigators an official statement and has kept relatively quiet since Sunday.

“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,” Clayton County resident Glenn Taylor said.

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

Hill surrendered to authorities at the Gwinnett County jail Wednesday night and was released on bond shortly afterward.

“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 has said McCord is a close friend and he called the shooting a tragic accident. The attorney who represented him during his ethics case hasn’t returned phone calls.

Hill 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.

The most recent misdemeanor charge isn’t likely to have an immediate effect on Hill’s job, said Ken Vance, executive director of the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.

“We will look at whether or not he will be able to retain his certification to be a law enforcement officer,” Vance said, adding that the probe will likely begin after Hill’s court case is resolved. “We like to let the courts do their work first; it helps us,” he said.

If felony charges are filed in the case, Hill’s certification will be immediately suspended, Vance said.

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

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

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