Butts County, GA – A federal judge sided with a group of disgruntled sex offenders by granting their request to stop the Butts County sheriff from posting signs at their homes warning trick-or-treaters to stay away.
Federal District Judge Marc Treadwell granted the temporary injunction on Tuesday, WAGA reported.
In his 25-page ruling, Treadwell said that the sheriff’s office provided no evidence that the sex offenders posed any risk of harm to trick-or-treaters.
The three sex offenders who filed the lawsuit have been identified as Corey McClendon, Reginald Holden, and Christopher Reed, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
According to the Georgia Sex Offender Registry, McClendon was convicted of statutory rape in 2001.
In 2002, Holden was convicted of lewd, lascivious battery sex with victim 12 to 15 years of age.
Reed was convicted of aggravated sexual battery and criminal sexual assault of a minor in 2007.
"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,” the federal judge wrote. “Rather, the Sheriff’s decision is based solely on the fact that the Plaintiffs’ names remain on Georgia’s registry of sex offenders.”
Treadwell also ruled that posting such signs would be a violation of the sex offenders’ First Amendment rights, WAGA reported.
“We are hopeful that this decision indicates that, as with this preliminary issue, we will prevail in the permanent injunction action and the lawsuit in general,” the sex offenders’ attorney, Mark Yurachek, told WAGA.
“We hope for and wish that every child in Butts County...enjoys a joyful and safe Halloween and note that the lack of signs in front of registrants homes will not affect either their joy or safety this year or any other year,” Yurachek added.
Butts County Sheriff Gary Long said he plans to appeal the temporary injunction.
“I want the appeal filed and I believe the attorneys are in the same boat as I am,” Sheriff Long told WAGA.
Sheriff Long addressed the issue in a public notice on Oct. 21.
“Last Halloween, the Chamber of Commerce cancelled ‘Halloween on the Square.’ In doing so, our neighborhoods had a large increase in children going door-to-door,” Sheriff Long explained.
“My office took precautions and placed signs indicating ‘No Trick or Treat’ at each registered sex offender’s residence in the County,” the sheriff noted. “This was done to ensure the safety of our children.”
The signs, which were posted on approximately 200 homes, did not specifically note that the individuals who lived there were sex offenders, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Sheriff Long said that the group’s federal lawsuit seeks to ban the Butts County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) from being able to post the notices in the future.
The sex offenders have also asked the court to grant them compensation for the humiliation, fear, and stress they claimed the signs caused them, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Yurachek argued that the signs do nothing to protect children, KTTV reported.
“It just makes your constitutional rights less safe,” Yurachek alleged.
Since the Georgia State Sex Offender Registry does not mandate offenders to post such notices, the BCSO shouldn’t be allowed to do so, he said.
Yurachek alleged that the BCSO trespassed on his “brave” clients’ property when they placed the notices outside their homes.
“They are individuals who have been brave enough to not be afraid to let the public know that they are registered sex offenders, but are also not willing to tolerate this unlawful action by the sheriff,” the attorney declared to KTTV. “The law allows the sheriff to put a list of registered sex offenders at his office, at the courthouse, on the internet…It does not allow him to go door-to-door telling people you have a sex offender living next door to you.”
Yurachek said that it is “easy to pick on” sex offenders, because no one wants to help them, WXIA reported.
“If this goes by without a legal challenge and push-back, it’s going to get worse,” he said, adding that the sheriff could potentially start posting signs on the vehicles of people who have been convicted of drunk-driving offenses.
Sheriff Long said his office has acted within the law, and that his main goal is to make sure predators do not have access to children.
“We just want to eliminate any possibility that any of these children in our county becoming prey to a sexual predator," he told KTTV.
“There’s some sex offenders that’s not happy,” he acknowledged to WXIA. “But I’m not really in the business of making them happy. I’m in the business of keeping safe communities and making sure our children is protected.”
As a result of the temporary injunction, Butts County sheriff’s deputies will be out in force on Halloween.
“We will have a bigger presence in our neighborhoods where sex offenders reside then we ever have before,” Sheriff Long told WAGA. “They’ll be cars sitting in that neighborhood.”