Veteran sues after being arrested for holding ‘God bless homeless vets’ sign
A U.S. Army veteran and retired truck driver, who was arrested for holding a sign reading « God bless homeless vets » outside a Georgia town hall, filed two lawsuits on Tuesday alleging his First Amendment right to speak freely outside of government buildings had been violated.
« If the First Amendment means anything, it has to mean you can hold a sign in front of City Hall without being handcuffed, » said Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) attorney Adam Steinbaugh, to Fox News Digital in a statement. « We look forward to upholding Jeff’s rights and strengthening the rights of all. »
FIRE filed the two lawsuits on behalf of Jeff Gray, who sued the city of Alpharetta, Georgia, and two of its police officers and the chief of police for the city of Blackshear, Georgia, for his detention, search and repeated arrest, which he believes constitutes an attack on his constitutional rights.
“I have been harassed, raped, handcuffed and arrested countless times for peacefully exercising my First Amendment rights,” Gray said, according to a report by FIRE. « My intention is to ensure that all Americans, from the wealthiest millionaire to the poorest homeless, can exercise these rights without fear of the consequences of our government. »
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In January 2022, as Gray stood on a public sidewalk outside Alpharetta City Hall holding the sign that read « God bless homeless vets, » police told him the action was a form of illegal « begging », according to FIRE. Gray documented the scene with his own camera to see how the public and the police would react.
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Gray told police he wasn’t asking anyone for money, but even if he was, he has a First Amendment right to do so, according to FIRE. The police threatened to arrest him if he refused to stop.
Alpharetta police allegedly seized and turned off Gray’s video camera, demanded to see his ID, searched him for it, and banned him from the area, which FIRE says is a violation of law. his First Amendment right to film police in public places, to speak without being compelled to identify himself, and to speak in a public place.
« If this is how the Alpharetta police treat a guy with a camera, how do they act the rest of the time? » Steinbaugh said in the report. « The First Amendment protects the right to hold a sign – and it certainly protects the right to film police activity in a public space. »
In Blackshear, the town’s police chief, Chris Wright, issued Gray a felony citation and told him he had to have a permit for a ‘parade, procession or demonstration’ to hold his sign out front. City Hall, according to FIRE. Wright called him « a little silly, » but explained that under the city’s ordinance, which FIRE says is nearly identical to a law struck down by the Supreme Court in 1969, Gray should send a letter to the mayor and city council. explain the purpose of his demonstration and obtain official permission to do so.
FIRE has also sent a letter to the mayor of Blackshear explaining that the lawsuit intends to end the town’s speaking permission order.
“Jeff Gray does not need a government-issued clearance slip to speak — the First Amendment is his clearance slip,” FIRE attorney Harrison Rosenthal said in the report. « Speaking out in public places is a basic First Amendment right, whether government officials recognize it or not. If our cities don’t teach officers to do their jobs properly, FIRE will. »
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In 2011, Gray began uploading recordings of what he calls « civil rights investigations » to his YouTube channel, HonorYourOath Civil Rights Investigations. In his videos, Gray peacefully asserts his First Amendment rights in cities across the Southeastern United States and documents positive and negative interactions with police.
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