- Three sex offenders filed a lawsuit against the Butts County Sheriff’s Office for violating their First Amendment rights by placing signs outside their homes that read: “Warning! No Trick-or-Treat at this address!”
- On Tuesday, a federal judge declined to award the men damages but granted their motion to prevent deputies from posting signs on their properties.
- The judge did not extend the injunction to all sex offenders in the county but warned the Sheriff about blanket sign-posting.
A federal judge in Georgia issued a ruling Tuesday prohibiting the Butts County Sheriff’s Office from posting signs outside the homes of three registered sex offenders, warning trick or treaters not to visit.
The signs in question read: “Warning! No Trick-or-Treat at this address! A community safety message from Butts County Sheriff Gary Long.”
When a local Halloween festival was canceled last year, deputies expected to see more children going door to door. To ensure public safety, Sheriff Gary Long ordered deputies to place the signs outside the homes of over 200 registers sex offenders in the days leading up to Halloween. The same strategy was going to be used this year, until three sex offenders filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office.
Christopher Reed, Reginald Holden, and Corey McClendon argued that the signs were a violation of their First Amendment rights and were essentially a form of compelled speech.
According to their lawsuit, the offenders questioned whether the sheriff “exceeded his authority” in putting up the signs and whether deputies trespassed on their properties when doing so. The men say they were told that if they removed the sign, they would be arrested or face “criminal action.”
Their suit also says the deputies’ actions caused them harm, including “anxiety, embarrassment and humiliation,” and damaged their ability to trust law enforcement. They sought a jury trial and damages.
Federal Judge Issues Ruling
Judge Marc Treadwell heard the arguments in court Thursday and handed back his decision on Tuesday. In it, the judge wrote, “The question the Court must answer is not whether Sheriff Long’s plan is wise or moral, or whether it makes penological sense. Rather, the question is whether Sheriff Long’s plan runs afoul of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It does.”
Georgia displays all registered sex offenders’ names, photos, and addresses in a public online directory. But the statute “does not require or authorize sheriffs to post signs in front of sex offenders’ homes, nor does it require sex offenders themselves to allow such signs.” the ruling states.
It goes on to say that all three plaintiffs have “paid their debts to society” and now live “productive, law-abiding lives.”
The judge noted that Christopher Reed was convicted in Illinois for sexual assault in 2007, but for the past six years has been living in Butts County with his father.
Cory McClendon was convicted of statutory rape for having sex with a female who was under the age of sixteen when he was seventeen in 2001. According to the judge, he is now a full-time student, suffers from an unspecified disability, and lives with his parents and his six-year-old daughter.
Reginald Holden was convicted in Florida in 2004 for lascivious battery over an incident in 2001. The judge says he has owned a home it Butts County since 2017, lives alone, and works as a warehouse coordinator.
Judge Treadwell wrote that the Sheriff’s decision to place signs on their homes was not based on determinations that they are dangerous, but instead based solely on the fact that their names remain on the state’s sex offender registry.
The judge declined to award the men damages, but he granted their motion to prevent deputies from posting signs on their properties. However, the judge did not extend the injunction to all sex offenders in the county.
Judge Treadwell warned the sheriff about continuing this policy saying, “(Sheriff Long) should be aware that the authority for (his) blanket sign posting is dubious at best and even more dubious if posted over the objection of registrants.”
When giving his ruling, the judge added, “To be clear, this injunction in no way limits Sheriff Long’s discretion to act on specific information suggesting a risk to public safety. But he cannot post the signs over the named Plaintiff’ objections simply because their names are on the registry.”
Mark Yurachek, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, told 11Alive his clients were “thankful” for the court’s “thoughtful and measured decision.”
“We hope for and wish that every child in Butts County and in every community in the country enjoys a joyful and safe Halloween and note, as the Court’s opinion did, that the lack of signs in front of registrants’ homes will not affect either their joy or their safety this year or any other year.” he continued.
Sheriff’s Office Responds
In a lengthy statement posted to Facebook. Long said he “respectfully and strongly” disagreed with the ruling, but will abide by it.
“I will continue to fight for and protect our children by any legal means necessary,” Long added before laying out his safety plans for Halloween this year.
“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.”
He also warned community members who may be frustrated by the ruling to not take matters into their own hands. Long closed his message by encouraging people to share and look at the state’s Sex Offender Registry ahead of Halloween since there is no time to appeal this decision before then.
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.
See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)
Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”
Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.
New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer
Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.
“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”
Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.
Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”
“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.
Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.
Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.
“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”
Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.
Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.
Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.
It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.
During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”
At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.”