United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
T. TREADWELL, JUDGE
Plaintiffs are sex offenders. That is because many years ago
they committed offenses that fall within the State of
Georgia's definition of sex offenses. Since then, they
have served their terms of imprisonment and have, as far as
the law is concerned, paid their debts to society. But
because they have been classified as sex offenders, they
remain subject to Georgia's lifelong requirement that
they register with their local sheriff. But by all accounts,
they are rehabilitated. They live productive, law-abiding
lives. Two of the named Plaintiffs live with their parents;
one has a six-year-old daughter living with him. The State of
Georgia, under its system for classifying sex offenders, has
not determined that they pose an increased risk of again
committing a sexual offense.
their Sheriff finds it necessary to post signs in front of
their homes announcing to the public that their homes are
dangerous for children. The Sheriff's decision is not
based on any determination that the Plaintiffs are dangerous.
Nor is the Sheriff's sign-posting founded on Georgia law.
Rather, the Sheriff's decision is based solely on the
fact that the Plaintiffs' names remain on Georgia's
registry of sex offenders. Further, Sheriff Long plans, as he
has in the past, to ban the Plaintiffs from expressing their
disagreement with the signs and the message the signs convey.
Plaintiffs object and seek relief from this Court. The
question the Court must answer is not whether Sheriff
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.
Christopher Reed, Reginald Holden, and Corey McClendon bring
this complaint individually and on behalf of a putative class
of similarly situated persons against Butts County Sheriff
Gary Long, Deputy Jeanette Riley, and Deputies John and/or
Jane Does #1-3 for placing signs in front of their residences
the week before October 31, or Halloween, 2018. Doc. 5
¶¶ 1-3, 4-6, 11. After learning that the Defendants
planned to post the same signs this Halloween, the Plaintiffs
moved for a preliminary injunction on October 7, and on October
24, the Court held a hearing on the motion. Docs. 6; 12.
Holden, and McClendon were previously convicted of sexual
offenses and are registered sex offenders. Docs. 5 ¶
15-16, 22-23, 32-33; 11 ¶¶ 15-16, 22-23, 32-33.
Their offenses are among a wide range of offenses covered by
a Georgia statute, O.C.G.A. § 42-1-12, imposing lifetime
restrictions on “sex offenders.” As discussed
below, none of the named Plaintiffs have been determined by
Georgia authorities to pose a heightened risk of recidivism.
On the contrary, the evidence adduced at the hearing tends to
establish that, having served their sentences, they have been
rehabilitated and are leading productive lives.
was convicted in 2004 in Florida of lewd and lascivious
battery for an incident that occurred in 2001. Holden has
owned a home in Butts County since May 2017. He lives by
himself and works as a warehouse coordinator.
was convicted of statutory rape as the result of an incident
that occurred in 2001 when he was seventeen. Specifically, he
had sex with a female who was under the age of sixteen.
McClendon is a full-time student, suffers from an unspecified
disability, and lives with his parents, who own the home
where he resides. His six-year-old daughter also lives with
did not appear at the hearing because he could not take time
off from work. According to the complaint, he was convicted
of sexual assault in 2007 in Illinois. Doc. 5 ¶ 15-16.
For the past six years, he has lived in Butts County with his
father, who owns their home. Id.
before Halloween 2018, Butts County Sheriff's deputies
placed in front of the Plaintiffs' homes signs carrying
12-11. The deputies also tacked to the front doors, or gave
to the Plaintiffs, this leaflet:
Halloween Safety sign has been placed in front of
your residence by Order of Sheriff Gary Long. This order is
due to a registered Sex Offender is registered to be living
at this address with the Butts County Sheriff
Ga Code Section 42-1-12 (i) provides as the
duty of the Sheriff Office The sheriff's office in each
(5)Inform the public of the presence of sexual offenders in
each community The sign will be placed at location by the
Butts County Sheriff Office on Saturday, October 27, 2018 and
removed by The Butts County Sheriff Office Before Sunday,
November 4, 2018.
THIS SIGN IS PROPERTY OF THE BUTTS COUNTY SHERIFF
OFFICE SHERIFF GARY LONG, IT SHALL NOT BE REMOVED BY ANYONE
OTHER THAN THE BUTTS COUNTY SHERIFF OFFICE.
found the sign when he returned home from work. He telephoned
Deputy Riley, whom he understood to be “the enforcement
officer, ” to ask why the sign had been placed on his
lawn without his knowledge or permission. According to
Holden, Deputy Riley informed him that if he removed the
sign, he would be arrested. Holden also testified that
shortly before Halloween 2017, a deputy came to his house and
advised him to turn his lights off the night of Halloween and
to not answer his door to anyone but law enforcement. Holden
did not object and complied with that restriction.
testified that two deputies appeared at his door shortly
before Halloween 2018 to inform him that they would be
“placing a sign on [his] property.” He also
received a leaflet, presumably the one described above. The
deputies informed him that neither he nor anyone else could
move the sign and that if he did, “it would be criminal
action.” In response to his objections, one of the
deputies informed him that “it had to be done.”
McClendon understood that if he did not display the sign, he
would “go to jail.” Reed's allegations track
Holden's and McClendon's testimony. He alleges that
deputies placed the sign on his property on October 27, 2018,
where it was noticed the next morning by his father when he
left for church. Doc. 5 ¶¶ 17-18. Reed's father
objected to the sign but was told by deputies that he had to
display the sign. Id. ¶¶ 19-20.
Long testified that he plans to place identical signs in
front of the residences of the fifty-seven registered sex
offenders living in Butts County this year. He testified, and
his attorney confirmed, that this is an “across the
board placement of signs, ” meaning that the signs will
be placed without regard to the particular circumstances of a
registrant's prior offense or any assessment of a
registrant's threat to the community, specifically
Sheriff Long generally confirmed Holden's testimony that
prior to Halloween of 2018, deputies would do a
“compliance check” shortly before Halloween and
ask each registrant to place a leaflet on the door. Sheriff
Long acknowledged that since he became sheriff in 2013, he
has never had any problem with registrants having
unauthorized contact with minors, or, for that matter, any
problems at all with registrants living in Butts County.
However, as he testified, and as the Facebook page of his
reelection campaign states, the local chamber of commerce had
canceled its annual community Halloween event in
2018. Because that raised the possibility that
more minors would be trick-or-treating, Deputy Riley asked if
the Sheriff's Office could put warning signs in front of
registrants' homes. Unsure of the answer, Sheriff Long
had Deputy Riley contact the Georgia Sheriffs'
Association for advice. Deputy Riley said she was told that
they could post the signs if they were on the
“right-of-way” and if they did not have on them
the words “sex offender.” In Sheriff Long's
view, this is an “extension” of the sex offender
registration requirements and his duties under §
Long testified that he plans to place the signs in what he
understands to be the “rights-of-way” in front of
registrants' homes. This year, like last year, residents
and homeowners will not be allowed to move the signs, cover
the signs, place something in front of the signs, or post a
the absence of any specific information or data indicating
that the Plaintiffs pose a risk, Sheriff Long strongly
believes the signs are necessary. As he posted on his
re-election campaign's Facebook page: “I am so
ready for this fight. My staff and I will fight this to the
end!!! Nothing is more important than our children!!!”