Fri. Apr 19th, 2024
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Veteran sues after being arrested for holding ‘God bless the homeless vets’ sign

Veteran sues police over alleged violation of First Amendment rights: ‘I have been harassed, trespassed, handcuffed and arrested countless times’

A U.S. Army veteran and retired truck driver, who was arrested for holding a sign with the message “God bless the homeless vets” in front of a Georgia city hall, filed two lawsuits Tuesday alleging his First Amendment right to speak freely outside government buildings had been infringed upon.

“If the First Amendment means anything, it must mean that you can hold a sign in front of city hall without being handcuffed,” The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) attorney Adam Steinbaugh told Fox News Digital in a statement. “We look forward to vindicating Jeff’s rights and reinforcing the rights of all.”

FIRE filed the two lawsuits on behalf of Jeff Gray, who sued the City of Alpharetta, Georgia, two of its police officers and the police chief of the city of Blackshear, Georgia, for his repeated detainment, search and arrest, which he believes to be an infringement of his constitutional rights. “I have been harassed, trespassed, handcuffed and arrested countless times for peacefully exercising my First Amendment rights,” Gray said, according to a report from FIRE. “My intention is to ensure that all Americans from the wealthiest millionaire to the poorest homeless person can exercise these rights without fear of consequence from our government.” In January 2022, while Gray stood on a public sidewalk outside of Alpharetta City Hall holding the sign that read “God Bless the Homeless Vets,” police told him that the action was a form of illegal “panhandling,” according to FIRE. Gray documented the scene with his own camera to see how the public and police would react.

Gray told police that he was not asking anyone for money, but even if he was, he has the right to do so under the First Amendment, according to FIRE. Police threatened arrest if he refused to stop.

Alpharetta police reportedly seized and turned off Gray’s video camera, demanded to see his identification, searched him to find it and banned him from the area, which FIRE alleged is a violation of his First Amendment right to film police in public places, to speak without being compelled to identify himself and to engage in expression in a public place.

Army veteran and retired truck driver, Jeff Gray. (Courtesy of Lacy Jessica Photography)

“If this is how 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 up a sign — and it certainly protects the right to film police activity in a public space.”

In Blackshear, the city’s Police Chief Chris Wright issued Gray a criminal citation and told him that he had to have a permit for a “parade, procession, or demonstration” to hold his sign outside city hall, according to FIRE. Wright called it “kind of silly,” but explained that in accordance with the city’s ordinance, which FIRE said is nearly identical to a law struck down by the Supreme Court in 1969, Gray would have to send a letter to the mayor and city council explaining the purpose of his demonstration and obtain official approval to do so.

FIRE also sent a letter to Blackshear’s mayor explaining that the lawsuit intends to bring an end to the city’s permission-to-speak ordinance.

Army veteran and retired truck driver, Jeff Gray. (Courtesy of Lacy Jessica Photography)

“Jeff Gray doesn’t need a government-issued permission slip to speak — the First Amendment is his permission slip,” FIRE attorney Harrison Rosenthal said in the report. “Speaking out in public areas is a core First Amendment right, whether government officials recognize it or not. If our cities won’t teach officers to do their job properly, FIRE will.”

In 2011, Gray started 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 through the southeastern U.S. and documents both positive and negative interactions with police.

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peacefully assemble and
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Freedom of Assembly – Peaceful Assembly – 1st Amendment Right