A group of registered sex offenders in Georgia is suing a county sheriff's office for placing signs in their front yards warning residents not to trick-or-treat at their homes on Halloween.
Butts County Sheriff Gary Long's office placed the large white signs in the offenders' yards last Halloween and had plans to do it again this year, but the federal class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Macon, Georgia, hopes to stop it.
The posters include images of two stop signs, the "no" symbol plastered across a Halloween bag and the message: "WARNING! NO TRICK-OR-TREAT AT THIS ADDRESS!!"
According to the lawsuit, one deputy told an offender he could be arrested if he removed the sign before Halloween night.
The suit, which says it is on behalf of all of the registered sex offenders in the county southeast of Atlanta, contends that the placing of the signs violates laws against trespassing on private property and the plaintiffs' constitutional rights against forced speech.
The sex offenders also claim in the suit that they were left humiliated and embarrassed by last year's signs. They are asking a federal judge to declare the practice by the sheriff's office "unlawful and invalid."
State law gives the sheriff "many legal avenues by which he may publicize the name, address and even photograph of every registered sex offender in Butts County, but unless and until the Legislature authorizes it, coming onto their property to force them to display signs is simply not one of them," attorney Mark Yurachek, who represents the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
Sheriff Long posted a statement on Facebook saying he put the signs up to "ensure the safety of our children." He said the department will argue at a hearing in federal court on Thursday that his office is "protecting our children and following Georgia Law by placing these signs."
"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," he posted.
The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial and damages.