JACKSON -- A group of Butts County sex offenders is suing Sheriff Gary Long over signs they are required to post on their lawns on Halloween.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 24 by three Butts County residents on the Georgia sex offender registry, challenges the sheriff's office's practice of requiring residents on the registry to display signs reading: "Warning: No trick-or-treat at this address. A community safety message from Butts County Sheriff Gary Long." The suit also alleges deputies trespassed in order to place and collect the signs last year.
Attorneys Mark Yuracheck and Mark Begnaud are seeking class action status for the suit, arguing more than 200 registered sex offenders in Butts County have faced the same requirements.
The suit — on behalf of Christopher Reed, Reginald Holden and Corey McClendon — is pending in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia in Macon. The suit names Butts County Sheriff Gary Long and other sheriff's office employees as respondents.
Yuracheck and Begnaud argue in the complaint that Georgia's sex offender registry statute does not require such signs to be placed at the homes of offenders, and that the Butts County Sheriff's Office did not have permission to enter their properties to place or collect them.
In addition to arguing deputies trespassed, the suit claims the signs caused "anxiety, embarrassment and humiliation," and compelled "petitioners to endorse speech which they found objectionable."
Long, in a Facebook post, said he began having the signs placed at the homes of sex offenders last year, after the Butts County Chamber of Commerce discontinued its annual trick-or-treating event on the Jackson square.
"In doing so, our neighborhoods had a large increase in children going door-to-door. My office took precautions and placed signs indicating 'No Trick or Treat' at each registered sex offender’s residence in the county," Long said. "This was done to ensure the safety of our children."
Long said the case is due to be heard in court Thursday, and that he anticipates a ruling.
"We will argue to the federal court that we are protecting our children and following Georgia law by placing these signs," Long said. "Regardless of the judge’s ruling this Thursday, I will do everything within the letter of the law to protect the children of this community."