A Georgia woman arrested after complaining on Facebook about her ex-husband, a Washington County deputy sheriff, is about to get her day in court.
A federal judge late last week ruled that Anne King’s former husband, Corey King, is not immune from a civil lawsuit she filed against him for malicious prosecution. United States District Judge Marc Treadwell also found that Corey King’s colleague and friend, Capt. Trey Burgamy — who swore an affidavit for Anne King’s arrest in January 2015 — will stand trial for malicious prosecution and unlawful arrest.
“It is basic that the First Amendment does not allow the government or any individual police officer to punish a person for speech they don’t like, or that they believe is false.” said Cynthia Counts, Anne King’s attorney. “The court’s ruling today vindicates that fundamental tenet of Constitutional law, especially in finding that an arresting officer cannot get off scot-free just because a magistrate approves his unlawful application.”
It all started with Anne King’s seemingly innocuous post on January 15, 2015: “That moment when everyone in your house has the flu and you ask your kid’s dad to get them (not me) more Motrin and Tylenol and he refuses.”
Friends of Anne King, who lives in Tennille, chimed in with their support. One of her friends, Susan Hines, referred to Corey King as a “POS,” an abbreviation for “piece of (expletive).”
Corey King, who, according to court documents, felt “disrespected” by the slight, contacted Washington County’s magistrate court about initiating a criminal complaint against his ex-wife. He enlisted Burgamy’s help, setting the wheels in motion for his ex-wife’s arrest.
Burgamy’s affidavit accused Anne King of criminal defamation, saying she communicated “false matter which tends to expose one who is alive to hatred, contempt or ridicule, and which tends to prove a breach of peace.”
Anne King was arrested and spent nearly six hours in jail even though the charge of criminal defamation was struck down as unconstitutional in 1982. Charges against her were eventually dismissed.
“In fact, the Georgia Law Enforcement Handbook and the Official Code of Georgia that Investigator Burgamy used for his reference specifically stated that the criminal defamation statute ‘has been held unconstitutional in the case of Williamson versus State 1982,’” U.S. District Judge Treadwell wrote, calling Anne King’s arrest “patently absurd.”
The judge ruled Corey King was not liable for violating her First and Fourth Amendment rights because, unlike Burgamy, he was not acting in his official capacity as a sheriff’s deputy.
Magistrate Judge Ralph Todd, who signed off on the warrant, is immune from civil liability. In a deposition last October, Todd said he was unaware criminal defamation was no longer constitutional.
“Nobody ever notified me that it (the charge of criminal defamation) didn’t have any validity,” he said.
But in court, Todd threatened to ban Anne King from Facebook, she recalled in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this year. And when Hines, who wrote the derogatory comment about Corey King, asked about her First Amendment rights, Todd told her, “You can call Mr. King a piece of (expletive) to his face. You can even tell someone else you think he is a piece of (expletive). But you can’t post it out for the public to see. That’s defamation of character.”
In their depositions, Corey King and Burgamy said it was the judge’s decision, not theirs, to arrest Anne King. The two lawmen remain in “good standing” with Washington County Sheriff Thomas Smith.
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“They presented the evidence before the judge and the judge issued the warrant,” Smith said.
Anne King filed the federal lawsuit in January 2017, seeking unspecified monetary damages.
“Corey and Trey thought I was too dumb and too broke to do anything about it,” she told the AJC.
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