Opinion Columns & Blogs

Wrong on the right-of-way

Jailed. Mug shot. Booked and fingerprinted. That’s what happened to grandma in Macon, Georgia.

You’ve read the story: Cherry Horton (a.k.a. “grandma”) was keeping Macon Bibb beautiful by picking up illegal signs placed in the right-of-way. Some county officials didn’t like it.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Chief Deputy David Davis said the County Engineer’s office checked the right-of-way markers. After this, Davis said the sheriff’s office determined the signs were absolutely on private property. However, County Engineer Ken Sheets denied anyone from his office checked the markers. Grandma and I went to the site with the county’s top field surveyor. We found the right-of-way markers, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind, the signs were not on private property. Even the metal stakes, where the signs were padlocked so they couldn’t be taken, were 15 feet into the right-of-way. After grandma’s arrest, I saw the signs placed back into the right-of-way.

Georgia law says signs placed on a right-of-way are like litter and may be removed by anyone. So grandma was innocent, but humiliated because of lies, bad judgment and legal officials who didn’t know the law. Some were clearly aggravated because grandma continually phoned, annoying them and causing extra work.

Two people in the solicitor’s office complained to me they had domestic violence and other more important cases to prosecute. I suggested that responsibilities for sign violations might be turned over to another agency. They would have none of it; they wanted to keep jurisdiction.

Davis told The Telegraph the Solicitor’s office agreed to prosecute grandma. The solicitor’s representatives told me this was not so. They dismissed the case because the owners of the property, Food Lion, had closed and couldn’t be found. But Food Lion wasn’t the owner, I pointed out. Well, they answered, the warrant said they were. “But why didn’t you contact Eddie Parker who filed the official complaint; you can find him here,” I asked. “We thought he worked for Food Lion,” was the response. I still can’t make sense of this.

So why was grandma arrested? I checked the arrest documents: Eddie Parker said the signs were on private property and he had permission to put them there. Untrue. Parker also said grandma had taken signs from other people, so Deputy Shane Howard wrote it down. Were those signs on the right-of-way? What other people? Should a deputy check if this was indeed true? The deputy doesn’t mention it. It’s “theft by taking” the report says. So it’s off to the Magistrate Court for an arrest warrant to be issued. Deputy Howard signed the warrant under oath for this theft, so the court judge signs the warrant, as well. Grandma is jailed.

The warrant says the sign was taken “off of a public roadway.” Didn’t the magistrate court notice that before they issued the warrant? The arrest documents say owners gave permission for the signs. Not so. Who are the owners of a public roadway? Well, some confusion here. Where is the right-of-way? Who can remove signs from the right-of-way? Was it legal to remove them, or not?

No one seemed to know the answers to these legal questions. Shouldn’t we find out before we jail grandma? No one stopped to think about that. Grandma has her picture taken, fingerprinted and jailed.

The public is safe; the county is secure. Well, no. Grandma was innocent. Criminals are still out there.

Tom Scholl is a resident of Macon. He writes every other week for The Telegraph.