A sheriff in Georgia is trying to deter trick-or-treaters from sex offenders’ homes this Halloween with lawn signs.
The recipients are none too pleased.
Court documents show Butts County Sheriff Gary Long will face a group of registered sex offenders in federal court on Thursday, when a judge will determine whether the practice should be stopped while the lawsuit claiming their civil rights have been violated moves forward.
The signs read, “Warning! No Trick or Treat at this address!!”
“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,” Long said in a Facebook post Monday. “I ask for your prayers this Thursday into this matter.”
According to a motion for preliminary injunction calling for their removal, the sheriff’s authority to monitor sex offenders is explicitly defined by state statute.
But it does not allow deputies to “to enter (offenders’) property without permission and/or to force them to display a sign on that property announcing their status as a sex offender, let alone do so under pain of incarceration,” the motion states.
The sheriff’s office has argued in part that such an injunction would impede their ability to “protect the public from sexual predators,” court documents show.
Long said the debate stems from a practice that started in 2018 when the Chamber of Commerce canceled a town-sponsored Halloween event, prompting a “large increase” in door-to-door trick-or-treaters.
“This was done to ensure the safety of our children,” he said of the signs, which were subsequently placed at the residence of every registered sex offender in Butts County.
According to public data, there are 56 registered offenders in the county. That includes sexual offenders, sexually dangerous predators and absconders.
The three named plaintiffs in the litigation have convictions that date between 2001 and 2007 in various states and include criminal sexual assault of a minor, sexual battery and statutory rape.
All three, however, “object to being labeled a ‘sex offender,’” according to the complaint.
They are seeking to represent a class of sex offenders affected by the sheriff’s practice.
Deputies reportedly placed the signs on offenders’ properties last year in the week before Halloween and removed them in early November, the complaint states.
One named plaintiff said he was even given a small sign for his window in 2017 and told to “turn his lights off and not to pass out candy for Halloween.”
When they objected to the lawn signs, deputies reportedly threatened to arrest them.
One of the plaintiffs said he told a deputy the sign jeopardized his safety.
“(She) responded by stating that some counties make registrants spend Halloween night in jail,” the complaint states.
The practice violates their civil rights and constitutes trespassing under state law, according to the suit, which seeks an injunction and associated damages.
The signs have stirred a debate on Facebook about the rights of sex offenders and survivors.
On the sheriff’s post, some suggested the practice is unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy. Another said it’s more likely to harm the spouses and children who also live at the residences.
But many said they support the sheriff “100 percent.”
“If they don’t wanna be known as sex offenders, maybe they shouldn’t be sex offenders,” one person said.