SANDERSVILLE, Ga. - A frustrated Georgia mom decided to criticize her ex-husband on Facebook and found herself sitting in a jail cell.
Anne King has filed a federal lawsuit against Washington County and Corey King claiming they're the ones who broke the law.
It all started in January, 2015 near Sandersville, about a two and a half hour drive east of Atlanta. That's when Anne King posted this on Facebook:
Her friends weighed in.
"dont sound much like a daddy does he?"
Another offered to get the medicine... writing "ANY man who spitefully disregards his children's needs IS a piece of ----."
"So it embarrassed him, what you posted?" I asked Anne.
"Evidentally," she agreed. "Because he texted me and said take that --- off of Facebook."
When she did not, Corey King took his concerns to Washington County chief magistrate Ralph Todd.
The judge agreed there was evidence Anne had committed the crime of "criminal defamation" because she had made "derogatory and degrading comments... for the purpose of provoking a breach of the peace."
Anne King was taken into custody immediately, even though "criminal defamation" was ruled unconstitutional in Georgia in 1982.
"They put me in a patrol car in downtown Sandersville," she recounted. "That was very humiliating in a small town especially where everyone knows everyone."
She was booked, fingerprinted, and left in a cell for five and a half hours until she made bail. She says Corey King even dropped by to see her.
Oh yeah. We didn't tell you about that part yet. Corey King is also the commander of the Washington County jail.
"I had a bad feeling to be in his jail with his jailers processing me," Anne remembered. "And he walks by and looks me dead in the face in his jail and I can't tell you how intimidated I felt."
A state court judge would eventually hear the case. According to Anne King's federal lawsuit, that judge said "I don't even know why we're here." He threw out the case, dismissing the charge of criminal defamation.
"I shouldn't have to go to jail for speaking how I feel," Anne stressed.
She's right. There are very few things you can post online that will land you in jail. Physical threats are one. Perhaps confessions of a crime. The First Amendment is designed to prevent government from throwing someone in jail just because someone else doesn't like what you said. You can still be sued over your words, but that's in civil court. If you lose, it can only cost you money, not your freedom.
Besides, compared to all the things ever posted on social media about ex-husbands, was what Anne King said really that bad?
"This was so innocuous it was fairly shocking," agreed her attorney Cynthia Counts, a longtime First Amendment advocate in Atlanta. She's also represented FOX 5 in the past.
"Even if she did say something mean about him, what difference does it make?" Counts asked. "It's hard to imagine that anybody could think that this post is a basis for arrest."
Judge Todd sure did. According to King's lawsuit, "during the hearing, the magistrate even threatened to "ban (Ms. King) from Facebook."
Todd is not an attorney, but has still been elected multiple times as chief magistrate in Washington County. We tried asking him questions as he left for lunch.
"I don't have any comments on it," he said quietly as he headed to his pickup. "You can see the county attorney."
"Do you regret anything you did?"
"So you'd do it over again. You'd put her in jail over again if you could?"
"You'll have to ask the county attorney."
"Did you know that it was unconstitutional?"
"It's not unconstitutional," replied judge Todd.
At the time he issued the warrant, criminal defamation was still listed in the official Georgia Law Enforcement Handbook that judges and police use. But Judge Todd should have noticed right under the code it clearly says the law was ruled unconstitutional in the 1980s. It has since been officially repealed.
Corey King did not respond for comment. Neither did the county. But Anne King's activity on Facebook these days speaks volumes. She no longer posts about her ex-husband.
"I don't want to go back to jail again," she explained.
"So in a way, he got what he wanted," I pointed out.
"Oh," she agreed. "He did."