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May 19, 2022
A federal appeals court has ruled that a Georgia sheriff violated the constitutional rights of sex offenders by placing signs in their yards cautioning trick-or-treaters to avoid their houses on Halloween.
According to reports, shortly before Halloween in 2018, Butts County Sheriff Gary Long sent his deputies out with signs and instructed them to place the signs near the mailboxes at each of the county’s 57 registered sex offenders’ residences. The signs read: “Warning! No trick-or-treat at this address!!”
Three registered sex offenders in the county later filed a federal lawsuit, stating that the signs violated their First Amendment rights. A judge initially blocked Long from posting the signs, but denied a permanent injunction and granted summary judgment in favor of Long.
A three-judge panel at the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed Judge Marc Treadwell’s decision in an opinion issued on Wednesday, ruling the oversize signs are “compelled government speech” and violate a homeowner’s First Amendment rights.
“Thus, we vacate the district court’s judgment in favor of the sheriff and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” Judge Frank Hull wrote.
The judges also noted that none of the three sex offenders who sued, Reginald Holden, Corey McClendon and Christopher Reed have been classified as posing an increased risk of re-offending. Treadwell also found that they had been “rehabilitated” and were leading productive lives. “The sheriff does not dispute this, nor does the record support a contrary finding,” Wednesday’s ruling reads.
After the warning signs were first put up, Long posted a message on Facebook saying the signs were only put in the yards of registered sex offenders and re-enforced the fact that the safety of the county’s children was his top priority.
He also said Georgia law prohibits registered sex offenders from participating in Halloween. The appeals court noted in their final comments that this is not the case.
The ruling stated that Long acknowledged that he’s had no issues with registered sex offenders in his county, including unauthorized contact with minors, since becoming sheriff in 2013.
Judge Hull also noted in the ruling that sex offenders are not barred from “participating in Halloween” under Georgia law. Hull wrote: “The sheriff has not provided any record evidence that the registrants in Butts County actually pose a danger to trick-or-treating children or that these signs would serve to prevent such danger.
“At this stage, neither McClendon, Reed, nor the sheriff have shown they are entitled to summary judgment. Thus, we vacate the entry of judgment for the sheriff on McClendon’s and Reed’s First Amendment claims and remand for further proceedings.”
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: WKYC.COM