BUTTS COUNTY, Ga. - A federal judge barred the Butts County sheriff from posting warning signs in front of the homes of registered sex offenders.
Late Tuesday, Federal District Judge Marc Treadwell issued a 25-page ruling, granting an injunction to stop Butts County Sheriff's Office deputies from placing trick-or-treat warning signs in the right of ways, public land, in front of the homes of three registered sex offenders who brought the lawsuit.
“The federal judge has put an injunction in place that would prohibit my office from placing the warning signs at these three individuals' houses,” said Butts County Sheriff Gary Long.
In the temporary injunction, Judge Treadwell noted among other things, the defendants, the sheriff’s office provided no evidence the plaintiffs, the sex offenders, posed any threat to children trick-or-treating. And that the Sheriff’s Office would have violated the free speech first amendment rights of the sex offenders.
The ruling also read, "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. Rather, the Sheriff’s decision is based solely on the fact that the Plaintiffs’ names remain on Georgia’s registry of sex offenders.”
In a statement, Mark A. Yurachek, the attorney for the sex offenders pointed toward further court action “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.”
Sheriff Long told FOX 5 News his office is preparing for a likely appeal in the temporary injunction case for a more permanent ruling.
“If my attorneys file an appeal it would go to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. I want the appeal filed and I believe the attorneys are in the same boat as I am,” said Sheriff Long.
He said his most important priority is the safety of the children which is why come Halloween night there will be a big presence of deputies in Butts County.
“We will have a bigger presence in our neighborhoods where sex offenders reside then we ever have before, they’ll be cars sitting in that neighborhood,” said Sheriff Long.
Yurachek, the attorney for the sex offenders said in a statement “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.”
As the appeal process moves forward, Sheriff Long says 17 registered sex offenders on probation or parole will be required to attend a class at the sheriff’s office on Halloween night, effectively removing them from the presence of children.
The judge declined to award the plaintiffs any damages.
The Georgia Sex Offender Registry can be viewed online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/georgia-sex-offender-registry.
Sheriff Long posted the following response on the Butts County Sheriff's Office's Facebook page following the announcement:
“Last Thursday, attorneys acting on behalf of three sex offenders asked a Federal Judge to prohibit my office from putting up signs on the right of way, which warned parents not to take their children to particular homes for Trick-or-Treating, due to a registered sex offender residing there.
“The Sheriff’s Office intended to place the warning signs consistent with Georgia’s sex offender and registration warning law. The law is designed to provide oversight and tracking of individuals convicted of serious sex crimes such as rape and child molestation. The goal of these laws is to make our community safer, by not allowing convicted criminal predators to hide in the shadows.
“My promise to the citizens of Butts County is to protect the public, especially the children. This means making families aware if a registered sex offender is living close to them.
“The judge in this matter has ruled that I can NOT put signs on the right-of-way of the three offenders that filed the lawsuit. While I respectfully and strongly disagree with the judge’s ruling, I must abide by the ruling. I sought the advice from the Prosecuting Attorneys Council in 2018, before we placed the signs, who gave us specific instructions on how to place them in compliance with Georgia Law. Georgia law, O.C.G.A § 42-1-12 (i)(5) states, “The Sheriff’s Office in each county shall: Inform the public of the presence of sexual offenders in each community.” Just as I followed Georgia Law, I will follow the Judge’s ruling in this case. I will continue to fight for and protect our children by any legal means necessary.
“For this Halloween, our Deputies will keep a very strong presence in the neighborhoods where we know sex offenders are likely to be. Deputies will have candy in their patrol vehicles and will interact with the children until the neighborhood is clear of Trick-or-Treaters to ensure the safety of our children on Halloween night.
“While the vast majority of us may disagree with the Judge’s ruling, I strongly encourage you to NOT take matters into your own hands this Halloween. We understand the frustration with the Judge’s ruling, but we all must abide by it unless it is overturned on appeal. Unfortunately, there is no time to appeal before this Halloween.
“I thank the citizens of this great county for their overwhelming support. I urge every citizen in Butts County to forward the link below to all of their friends and family, so they know if a registered sex offender lives close to them. I thank all of those who are not residents of Butts County for their support as well. The outpouring of kind words from across the WORLD has been inspiring.
“You can also view the Sex Offender Registry by Map, by downloading the Butts County Sheriff’s Office App in your smartphone app store.
“Thanks for your support in such an important matter.”