Butts County registered sex offenders are suing to stop the Sheriff’s Office from putting signs in their yards to discourage trick-or-treaters ahead of Halloween.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Macon, asks the court to order the agency to stop the practice, which began last year with deputies planting signs that read: “NO TRICK-OR-TREAT AT THIS ADDRESS!! A COMMUNITY SAFETY MESSAGE FROM BUTTS COUNTY SHERIFF GARY LONG.” Deputies put up some of the signs while others among the county’s 200 registered sex offenders were told to display one themselves or face unspecified trouble, according to the complaint.
A hearing is set for Thursday at 9:30 a.m. for a judge to decide whether to bar the signs this year.
Long intends to fight for the signs. The sheriff said his agency decided to put up the warnings last year because the “Halloween on the Square” event in Jackson had been canceled, causing more children than normal to go door to door for their candy.
“Regardless of the Judge’s ruling this Thursday,” the sheriff wrote on Facebook, “I WILL do everything within the letter of the Law to protect the children of this Community.”
The suit — filed by registered sex offenders Christopher Reed, Reginald Holden and Corey McClendon — said deputies had violated the law by trespassing to put up signs without permission. The plaintiff’s attorneys, Mark Yurachek and Mark Begnaud, argue that forcing the men to leave the signs up in their yards was tantamount to “compelling speech,” which runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
The suit also seeks a trial and for a jury to award the plaintiffs compensation for the stress, fear and humiliation the signs caused last year.