Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Reed v. Long

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

October 29, 2019

CHRISTOPHER REED, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GARY LONG, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          MARC T. TREADWELL, JUDGE

         The 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.

         Yet 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.

         The 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.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs 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[1] on October 7, and on October 24, the Court held a hearing on the motion.[2] Docs. 6; 12.

         Reed, 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.

         Holden 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.

         McClendon 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 him.

         Reed 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.

         Shortly before Halloween 2018, Butts County Sheriff's deputies placed in front of the Plaintiffs' homes signs carrying this message:

         (Image Omitted)

         Doc. 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 Office.
Ga Code Section 42-1-12 (i) provides as the duty of the Sheriff Office The sheriff's office in each county shall:
(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.

Doc. 12-4.

         Holden 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.

         McClendon 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.

         Sheriff 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 children.

         Also, 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.[3] 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 § 42-1-12.

         Sheriff 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 competing sign.

         Notwithstanding 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!!!” Doc. 12-2.

         II. PRELIMINARY ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.