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Georgia Judge Rules in Favor of Three Sex Offenders Over Sheriff’s “No Trick-or-Treat” Signs

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  • 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.

The Lawsuit 

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.” 

Source: Butts County Sheriff’s Office

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. 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Fox News) (11Alive)

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Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains

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Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.


Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston

Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.

Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.

When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.

Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.

Signs That Went Unnoticed

The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.

On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.

Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.

I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.

She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.

Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.

Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.

“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”

Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges

According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.

After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.

At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.

Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.

ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.

On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.

Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.

See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)

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Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say

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The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.


COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card

Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.

Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.

On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.

The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.

Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.

The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.

Misuse of COVID Relief Funds

Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.

In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.

According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”

On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.

In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.

See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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