A federal judge in Georgia ruled Wednesday that a local sheriff cannot put signs in the yards of three registered sex offenders warning trick-or-treaters when they’re out on Halloween.
Judge Marc Treadwell ruled for the three men who sued Butts County after they sued to prevent Sheriff Gary Long from placing the signs in their yards.
“The question the Court must answer is not whether [Mr. Long’s] plan is wise or moral, or whether it makes penological sense. Rather, the question is whether Sheriff Long’s plan runs afoul of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It does,” the ruling reads.
The Obama-appointed district court judge noted that Georgia law only requires sex offenders’ names, addresses and pictures to be listed in an online directory and “does not require or authorize sheriffs to post signs in front of sex offenders’ homes.”
Judge Treadwell only granted a preliminary injunction for the three plaintiffs but did not expand that ruling to the county’s other sex offenders the men said they were suing on behalf of, according to CNN.
Regardless, Judge Treadwell cautioned Mr. Long about continuing these kinds of actions.
“[Mr. Long] should be aware that the authority for [his] blanket sign posting is dubious at best and even more dubious if posted over the objection of registrants,” he said.
The three plaintiffs — Christopher Reed, Reginald Holden and Corey McClendon — filed their lawsuit last month claiming that Butts County law enforcement officials trespassed to place signs in their yards that read: “Warning! No Trick-or-Treat at this address.”
The signs — originally placed in 2018 and were going to be placed again this year — were labeled as being a “community safety message from” Mr. Long, and the sex offenders were told only police officers could remove it, with one plaintiff claiming he was told he would be arrested if he discarded it.
The three plaintiffs said the police had no “legal authority” to place the signs and caused them humiliation, claiming in court documents they “paid their debts to society” and now live “productive, law-abiding lives.”
Mr. Long wrote in a statement posted on the Sheriff’s office’s Facebook page he “respectfully and strongly” disagreed with the ruling, saying extra enforcements would be dispatched to “neighborhoods where we know sex offenders are likely to be.”
Deputies will have candy in their patrol vehicles and will interact with the children until the neighborhood is clear of trick-or-treaters to ensure the safety of our children on Halloween night,” he wrote.
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