Court rules on sign placement in yards of sex offenders

A federal appeals court has ruled signs placed by the Butts County Sheriff's Office in front of sex offenders' homes violated their First Amendment rights. 

This is the newest ruling tied to the sheriff's office placing warning signs for trick or treaters in front of homes of 57 registered sex offenders in 20 18. 

"We are thankful and gratified that the 11th circuit saw the case in the same way that we did," said Mark Yurachek, the attorney representing the three plaintiffs who sued the sheriff's office in 2019.

"Our clients are members of a particularly vulnerable group of people politically because frankly, no one really cares what happens to them," Yurachek said. 

Sheriff Gary Long said the signs were an effort to protect children, and that they're government speech, placed in the government right of way. 

A judge initially ruled to stop the sheriff's office from putting the signs up, but ultimately the judge allowed the signs, stating registered sex offenders could place their own sign refuting the sheriff's sign. 

Yurachek said the sheriff's actions have implications far beyond this specific situation. 

"The sheriff could identify every democrat, every republican, independent," Yurachek said. "It is incredibly scary that someone who has the weight of not only the government but law enforcement behind them can place something like that in your front lawn and tell you, you have no choice but to leave it there. 

Sheriff Long posted the following ruling on social media:

"My job, as Sheriff, is to protect the people of this County. The appeals Court did not rule in my favor, but it was a fight I was determined to fight for the safety of our children. In the lower courts, we had two different rulings, one said we violated the rights of no one; the 2nd said we did. The ruling from the appeals court is what we must follow and this fight brings clarity to every Sheriff in the State of Georgia. Despite if I agree with this ruling or not, it is now the law of the land and I took an oath to follow those laws. I promise you, the people, that we will continue to protect your rights and protect this County’s most valuable assets, our children. Going forward my office will follow the ruling of the Court and will not place the signs in sex offender’s yards, but we will, in fact, put safeguards in place to continue to protect your children. I will always stand up and fight for what I believe in and what I think will protect you, the people. It is an honor and privledge [sic] to serve as your Sheriff." 

This ruling was a win for one of the plaintiffs because he owns the house where the signs were placed. 

Because the other two live with their parents, one of the judges asked that their parents be added as plaintiffs as well. 

FOX 5 reached out to the Butts County Sheriff's Office to see if the county plans on appealing this to the US Supreme Court but did not hear back.