Sheriff Goes All In On Violating The First Amendment After Assaulting A Protester For Carrying A 'F*CK TRUMP' Sign

from the hope-the-county-tells-him-he-has-to-pay-for-his-own-lawyer dept

A whole lot of attention — and thousands of cellphone cameras — are focused on law enforcement officers. Nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis PD officer Derek Chauvin have aimed a lot of unblinking eyes at officers around the country.

Unfortunately for the protesters — and Americans in general — a great number of officers have chosen to behave badly. Journalists have been targeted, teargassed, and arrested. Peaceful protests are being greeted with violence from police officers, who seem unable to comprehend just how quickly and thoroughly they’re making the protesters’ points for them.

Via Adam Steinbaugh comes yet another protest-related act of violence and stupidity by a law enforcement officer. This one, however, sits at the top of his county’s food chain. And he’s apparently unaware of the First Amendment, Supreme Court precedent, or how to properly respond to nothing more than a (self-censored no less!) profanity.

Actual video exists of this confrontation, which has led to stupider and stupider things in the days following this sheriff’s initial reaction:

Having stolen a sign from a demonstrator — one that said “F*CK TRUMP” — Sheriff Ashley Paulk then decided to grab the woman with the nearly-foulmouthed sign by the neck and shove her around for a bit.

He then doubled-down on his initial error by keeping the sign and declaring he needed it for an “investigation.”

No one but Sheriff Paulk seems to know what he’ll be investigating, especially since there’s nearly 50-year-old Supreme Court precedent on the books saying profanity is protected by the First Amendment, especially in “political” contexts, which these demonstrations clearly are.

Here’s the sheriff tripling-down one day later:

Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk says his office will arrest protesters holding signs with profanity, after getting in a brief scuffle Wednesday when he took a sign away from a group in downtown Valdosta.

There are even more dubious assertions further down in the article:

The sheriff says he supports the group’s right to protest peacefully, but he does not want them showing signs with profanity.

Oh ok. I guess bad words are now literal violence. That’s a dumb take. But this is even dumber. This assertion makes it clear he feels the journalists he’s speaking to are dumber than he is.

He went to get the sign after getting several calls complaining about the language, the sheriff says.

Even if true — which seems unlikely — the government doesn’t get to engage in content-based speech restrictions just because some locals are unhappy.

In support, Sheriff Paulk cites a law that doesn’t say what he thinks it does.

Georgia law… makes it a misdemeanor to use obscene, vulgar or profane language in the presence of a person under age 14, which threatens an immediate breach of the peace.

That last clause carries all of the weight and Paulk completely ignores it. The use of profane language in the presence of a person under the age of 14 has to “threaten an immediate breach of peace” to be illegal. Simply swearing (or in this case, almost swearing) in the presumed presence of certain minors isn’t a crime by itself.

So, guided by his own wrong assumptions, the sheriff is now loading up on civil causes of action.

A young woman was arrested for holding a sign displaying obscene language that alludes to a lewd act between Sheriff Ashley Paulk and President Donald Trump.

Sheriff Paulk doesn’t deserve to keep his job. Residents of Lowndes County should take this opportunity to vote him out… oh.

He is running for re-election this year, and is unopposed.

Pretty sure an empty office would be doing a better job handling these very mild (and very mildly profane) protests. Running unopposed guarantees Sheriff Paulk will stay in office long enough to make it easy to serve him with lawsuits, but it’s not going to make the state of policing any better in Lowndes County.

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Comments on “Sheriff Goes All In On Violating The First Amendment After Assaulting A Protester For Carrying A 'F*CK TRUMP' Sign”

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DB (profile) says:

I’m surprised his office didn’t immediately back off and claim he was acting as a private citizen. Although his immediate claim that he was seizing the sign for "an investigation" would be a problem for that claim, they might have gotten around it in court.

Georgia citizens might support this and be willing to re-elect the Sheriff. Which is exactly why federal civil rights laws were needed. It’s remarkable that they are apparently still needed.

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Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m surprised his office didn’t immediately back off and claim he was acting as a private citizen.

You are?

Even leaving aside that LEOs covering for other LEOs is the norm, not the exception, it is, as you say, his office. He’s the guy in charge. Who else is in a position to distance the department from the actions of the guy in charge of it, and who in that position would stick their neck out to publicly undermine their boss?

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Baron von Robber says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"Bad apples?
Some jobs can’t have bad apples.
Some jobs, everybody gotta be good.
Like … pilots.
“American Airlines can’t be like, ‘Most of our pilots like to land. We just got a few bad apples that like to crash into mountains. Please bear with us.’” – Chris Rock

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Again… Other countries pay their cops less and dont have similar levels of police brutality. Accountability and de escalation matter and cops will tend towards good behavior or actually knowing the rules. The only cops who dont benefit from this are the problem ones.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

"Keep in mind that there may be a cost to this"

Is that more or less than the cost of the numerous wrongful death lawsuits, lawsuits for violating other rights, the increased police activity and lawsuits due to lack of public trust due to the above, the fetishistic purchases of military hardware, etc. that are already happening now?

Also, as mentioned, other countries managed effective policing without these costs and without the horrific abuses. Once again, "Amercian exceptionalism" apparently just means the exceptional inability to do what it routine everywhere else.

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

"Keep in mind that there may be a cost to this."

As some have noted cops in other countries with similar levels of training to the US police cost less than a US officer does. Many get paid less as well.
And yet they fulfill their responsibilities while somehow managing to kill less than 1:40 the amount of people the German or Swedish police do. The police of Iran, Iraq, Colombia, Honduras, kill less than yours do.
In fact the USD rate of police killings is almost equal to the proportion of China’s actual murders, by the statistics. Even if you take those with a shovelful of salt it still makes for a horrible situation.

In fact where the police is concerned the "cost" is largely taking things away. Like the special considerations on how you are allowed to investigate an officer – because right there you have an entirely different legal system. One law for thee and one for me…cuz I’m wearing a badge.

Like the extra "training" fscking up the regular world-class police training and de-escalation training they do anyway. "conditioned response" training, for instance, which trains an officer to always act as if he was in a mexican standoff – shoot to kill before an actual threat has emerged.
"Riot" training which rather than teaching how to monitor and de-escalate a protest teaches advanced strategies on neutralizing as many people as possible.

Most of the "extracurricular" training US cops get are held by private actors who have been condemned by the US armed forces and the police officers of other nations as insane – but remain popular because a few actors such as the one headed by Bob Kroll (white supremacist and Minneapolis police union chief) believe an officers worthiness is expressed by the number of notches on his gun.

And let’s not get started on the military hardware bit. If the situation does call for .50 cal machine guns, and military assault vehicles then that’s the point where what you call in is the national guard not the police.

No, Koby, there is little cost involved. Except possibly in ear plugs when the union bosses start screaming about how the black man is castrating white america (well, to be fair i only know Bob Kroll will do that, but from what I’ve seen so far most of them seem cut from the same cloth).

How come the US can not do what even known lawless trouble spots in the middle east, asia and south american manage to accomplish, while killing way, way fewer people? You can’t even make the "The US has a crime problem" stick anymore given the utter hellholes many other police forces have to work in.

There is an answer in the offing of course – that the US has no political will to not be racist, classist, or employ anything other than a jackbooted horde of thugs to police it’s cities. I don’t think that’s where we want to take this.

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David says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

And yet they fulfill their responsibilities while somehow managing to kill less than 1:40 the amount of people the German or Swedish police do.

In Germany, everybody has the right to minimum standards of living, healthcare, free education. This is financed by a much higher rate of taxation. To stay internationally competitive, that requires products and services not achievable with cheap labour, requiring a high quality public education.

So in Germany, the police does not have the job to keep the poor and hopeless in check, and those that could not afford to live if it were not for crime. Also there isn’t a similar correlation with racial problems.

There have been waves of foreign workers: Polish for the mining industries around the start of 20th century, Italians in the 60s and 70s, Turkish in the 90s and later. The former GDR had its own influx of Vietnamese immigrants. All of those have come with their problems and tended to end in changes of the setup of population.

The principal common thing is that many of those come to Germany with the intent to make a living. Because of the different educational background, it often ends up in the lower qualified job market, but their children do have access to the full education, and a number of them are able to make use of this "vertical mobility". There is perspective.

And the lack of perspective and vertical mobility that the U.S. provides to its less privileged citizens results in different crime rates, and more correlation between crime and social background. Which again makes selective policing somewhat effective, while further eroding social mobility.

The U.S. needs to change a lot more than its police if it once the police to do a good job at, well, maintaining law and order.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

"In Germany, everybody has the right to minimum standards of living, healthcare, free education. This is financed by a much higher rate of taxation. To stay internationally competitive, that requires products and services not achievable with cheap labour, requiring a high quality public education."

It’s a great point to make. The US – ostensibly a nation of choices, liberty and prosperity – has allowed a lower class to emerge which is either more violent than criminals in bona fide third world countries, or suppressed with police forces more triggerhappy by far than the police in those third world countries.

As a result, for the overwhelming majority of americans, their "choices" are 60 flavors of shit or two dozen flavors of Helpless. I mean…at some point you’re going to have to insist that perhaps ten or even just five flavors of "good enough" might be the better option.

I’m pretty sure the US will keep fighting reform tooth and claw. Unlike the USSR the american experiment brings the money alongside the human suffering so it’ll last a hell of a lot longer. Eventually though, after all political attempts to balance the scales have failed there will be change…by one mechanism or the other. We’ve seen this happen in europe too damn many times already and it’s always the same tired old shit at the bottom of it.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Fine, sell off the military equipment and lay off officers until there’s enough money to train and pay them properly.

I would like to see what happens if we took away all of their guns. My guess is almost all of them would quit, and then the cities could hire people who 1) don’t get into policing for the chance to kill someone and 2) aren’t afraid to travel around town without a lethal weapon, because they don’t plan to give anyone a reason to hate them. But maybe I’m overly optimistic.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Except that he’s better off acting in his official capacity, as

(1) he has a chance at qualified immunity

(2) any settlement would be paid by the taxpayers

If he says he was acting as a private citizen, he opens himself up to a civil lawsuit for which he would personally be responsible as well as criminal charges (battery).

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Anonymous Coward says:

Running unopposed guarantees Sheriff Paulk will stay in office long enough to make it easy to serve him with lawsuits, but it’s not going to make the state of policing any better in Lowndes County.

When the job involves being surrounded by militant assholes with tiny IQs, only a militant asshole with a tiny IQ will apply for the job.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"When the job involves being surrounded by militant assholes with tiny IQs, only a militant asshole with a tiny IQ will apply for the job."

Ironically you could probably elect a sheriff mainly to deal with the hefty police abuses. Some counties empower their sheriffs to incredible degrees. Would make for a hell of a movie, the lone sheriff tackling the corrupt police department with blazing guns and affidavits.

And in the end credits he rides off in the sunset singing "I’m a poor, lonesome cowboy…" past the smoking wreck of a police station and citizens waving him farewell. Would have been perfect for John Wayne…except for his beliefs in white supremacy, of course. Damn. Clint Eastwood seems decent enough, maybe he’ll take the part.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Hypocrisy, thy name is Trump supporters

While the violation of the first is certainly a major problem you can’t help but laugh at the situation itself, as there is some serious humor to be found in a supporter of Trump of all people, someone who has absolutely zero hesitation in insulting and attacking anyone he perceives as his opponents, getting huffy over ‘bad’ language’.

For a group that has no problem trash talking their opposition and calling them weak and pathetic they sure are quick to break out the theatrical crutches while crying foul anytime someone says something mean about them.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hypocrisy, thy name is Trump supporters

You mean like when Trump supporters steal the other sides signs, damage and destroy their vehicles and boycott anyone associated with the opinion they dislike? Oh wait, that is the Anti Trump side doing all of that.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I love how right-wingers complain about boycotts from left-wingers as if such boycotts should be illegal, but have no problem launching boycotts of their own because a company decided to (for example) show support for LGBT civil rights or post a solemn “Black Lives Matter” JPEG on social media.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If I gave enough of a shit to try, I could find plenty of examples of right-wingers/Trump supporters doing all sorts of unsavory things. But for now, I’ll give you one such example: Cheryl Hall, a Trump supporter accused of submitting false voter registration forms by way of switching the registered party on those forms to “Republican”.

Pointing to that example isn’t saying “left-wingers don’t do this”; indeed, the article points out examples that would contradict such a statement. But if you want to act like left-wingers/Democrats/liberals serve in Satan’s army and right-wingers/Republicans/conservatives walk on water behind Jesus Christ…well, you’re long overdue for a swim.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

No, there aren’t. Voter registration fraud isn’t a rarity, but neither is it a regular thing. Actual in-person voter fraud is so rare in the United States that it may not exist. Voter ID laws do nothing but target people who won’t have access to the paperwork necessary for obtaining such an ID — and numerous such laws have been struck down for explicitly racist intent, to boot.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Hypocrisy, thy name is Trump supporters

"For a group that has no problem trash talking their opposition and calling them weak and pathetic they sure are quick to break out the theatrical crutches while crying foul anytime someone says something mean about them."

Ain’t that the truth. Trump and his cultists can spend the better part of two weeks tweeting out bile, mockery and outright hatred to a few dozen individuals and entire communities…
…and then some newspaper somewhere publishes a critical editorial – and Trump falls apart like a house of cards, crying and screaming about how evil everyone is being.

It’s like that fat entitled child who spends all day shoving other kids on the sandbox and then when the mother tries to drag him away he throws a tantrum and screams that mommy is a meanie.

A few of the trump cultists might actually be that childish and entitled, but I think it has more to do with the fact that Trump knows that when all you do is fast-talking people the key to winning is to never lose momentum. If he ever stops to listen, ever stops going full throttle on the bullshit, his piled-up steaming heap of narrative will just collapse right out from under him.

It’s been his classic default strategy for his entire life. Go full speed on the BS until someone tries to get a word in against whatever the hell you just said, then use that opposition as a stepping stone from which to launch the next diatribe. Rinse and repeat.

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Hypocrisy, thy name is Trump supporters

It’s been his classic default strategy for his entire life. Go full speed on the BS until someone tries to get a word in against whatever the hell you just said, then use that opposition as a stepping stone from which to launch the next diatribe. Rinse and repeat.

I have to disagree. It wasn’t until he ended up with Roy Cohn as his "mentor" that he started with the behavior you describe. He was a sleazebag before it, but with Cohn’s tutelage he went way beyond behaving like a sleazebag.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

I HATE going to that area.

That said, he could be in trouble, because Georgia actually has a law that covers this, it’s OCGA 16-5-42 False imprisonment under color of legal process
AHEM

When the arrest, confinement, or detention of a person by warrant, mandate, or process is manifestly illegal and shows malice and oppression, an officer issuing or knowingly and maliciously executing the same shall, upon conviction thereof, be removed from office and punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years.

Oh dear.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And this is why more laws won’t do fuck all. We already have laws that make police behavior illegal but none of them matter until a cop does something particularly heinous on camera and the public gets pissed off about it. You never hear about prosecuting a policeman without footage to prove it happened.

The problem is the police themselves. Clearly they all let their violent, bigoted sides out (assuming they even have other sides) when they get together in groups such as precincts. This is a basic and well-documented human behavior. So now you have a gang of thugs, armed with weapons, protective gear and the knowledge that no matter what they do they will get away with it unless some dickhead citizen catches it on camera. Off they go with their bad attitudes and disabled body cams to do some harm to the public.

We don’t need them, at least not what they’ve become. We need to look to the UK and elsewhere for examples of how we should expect police to behave and perform. And while I doubt any nation’s police are perfect they are without a doubt a massive improvement over the fascist shitshow we call law enforcement in America.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The problem is the police themselves.

No, they’re a symptom (albeit a rather large one). The disease is the systemic protection of police officers from accountability for their actions. Prosecutors, grand juries, cop-friendly judges, Internal Affairs departments, police unions — all part of a broad system that gives an astounding amount of leeway to criminal activity from police. You can’t change the police without changing the entire culture around the police and their being protected from consequences.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Yup, tat

Yes, and no respectively. Someone wants to hold up a sign saying ‘Fuck [Insert group here]’ they can absolutely do that, just like someone could hold up a ‘No, fuck you!’ sign in return should they desire.

I wouldn’t be calling for them to be arrested and as I’m not a psychopath I most certainly wouldn’t be calling for them to be shot.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Yup, that's the whole 'first amendment' thing in action

Yes, and no respectively. Someone wants to hold up a sign saying ‘Fuck [Insert group here]’ they can absolutely do that, just like someone could hold up a ‘No, fuck you!’ sign in return should they desire.

I wouldn’t be calling for them to be arrested and as I’m not a psychopath I most certainly wouldn’t be calling for them to be shot, as unlike certain individuals I don’t consider someone insulting me to be grounds to shoot/tear-gas/pepper-spray them.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

You would demand the sheriff arrest if not shoot someone that did so.

Racial slurs have no place in civilized speech, except to discuss those slurs as words. Anyone who uses them with racist intent can go fuck themselves with a railroad spike for all I care. But those words are still legally protected speech — and as such, people who want to make and display signs with those slurs included shouldn’t be arrested for doing so.

That said: Those people don’t have a right to avoid the consequences of holding up those signs. Someone who wants to stand on a public street corner and hold up a sign saying “Fuck N⸻rs” should understand the risks of doing so in New York City compared to, say, a practically all-White town in the Deep South. Even filmmakers know this; the sandwich board worn by Bruce Willis during the filming of Die Hard with a Vengeance was blank; both text variants (the original “I Hate N⸻rs” and the TV-friendly “I Hate Everybody”) were added in post-production.

tl;dr — Yes, they deserve to suffer consequences, but rotting in jail shouldn’t ever be one of them.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The concept that words can be profane is a prejudice. Words are considered profane because those are words that the "wrong sort of people" use to express themselves. If you are making the decision that speech is profane due to the choice of words instead of what is being expressed it’s just prejudice. If someone is saying something racist it really doesn’t matter if they say it in a "classy rich people" way or a "words only the bad people use to express the same thing" way

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If you are making the decision that speech is profane due to the choice of words instead of what is being expressed it’s just prejudice.

The choice of words carries its own meaning.

If someone lifts up a sign that says "Blood and Soil," the words themselves have zero negative meaning in their literal sense. You could say "Gore and Dirt" and have approximately the same literal meaning. But, historical use of that phrase lends those words context, which gives them an entirely different meaning.

As Twain said: "the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning."

Denying that word choice carries its own subtextual, contextual meaning is a very strange and almost naive view of semantics.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

choice of words carries different meaning for different people in different contexts. It’s what is being expressed that is important not the semantics. The reason "fuck" is taboo in "polite society" is because it is a word used by "the filth" that they want to pretend they are better than not because of what it expresses ("fuck!" (ouch I stubbed my toe and it really hurts) "fuckin-A" (Yes!) ).

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: So you would be fine with...

"F- Blacks, F- Jews, F- Journalists? The first two, s/id/epithet/, i.e. the N and K words."

Hell no. If the guy put the sign up on my private property I’d take it down. If the guy held up the sign on public property I’d hold up a sign saying "No, Fsck YOU!" in response.

Sorry if that doesn’t fit your "both sides" narrative. We liberals have a harder time calling cops on what ought to be free speech than the ones laughably calling themselves "conservatives" in the US.

"You would demand the sheriff arrest if not shoot someone that did so."

Nope. Again, sorry to burst your bubble there but the one calling for arrests when it comes to first amendment stuff is you guys, not us.

"Welcome to the post free speech world."

Ah, you mean the one where "Free speech" means "No one is allowed to speak against me"? I’m afraid that world is, today, the world of the alt-right. Not the one most people want.

Question, tz1, when you pose these "rhetorical" questions in your head, do you actually think about what you’re actually saying and the logical response?
Because from where I’m standing all I get is that you posed the question, answered what YOU would do, and assumed everyone else would set the same low bar of standards on free speech.

Bergman (profile) says:

Civil Causes Of Action? Ha! Try CRIMINAL!

"So, guided by his own wrong assumptions, the sheriff is now loading up on civil causes of action."

Title 18, Sections 241 & 242 of the US Code define what the Sheriff is doing and ordering his Deputies to do to be a federal crime – a misdemeanor if committed while alone and unarmed, a felony if visibly in possession of a firearm or when two or more people work together. A Deputy arresting someone and the booking desk supervisor booking the person meets the legal requirements of working together.

Georgia has one of the strongest citizen’s arrest statutes in the country. State law authorizes any citizen to make an arrest for any crime they personally witness without need of a warrant, and to use any necessary force to prevent resistance or escape from that arrest if it is for a felony (Georgia Code § 17-4-60).

The US Supreme Court ruled in 1948 (US v. Di Re) that anyone authorized by a state law (common or statutory) to make an arrest for a violation of state law is also authorized to make an arrest for a violation of federal law, under the same restrictions.

Don’t (just) sue the Sheriff who decided to make himself and his Deputies domestic enemies of the Constitution. ARREST THEM!

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Civil Causes Of Action? Ha! Try CRIMINAL!

Don’t (just) sue the Sheriff who decided to make himself and his Deputies domestic enemies of the Constitution. ARREST THEM!

Make sure you do it when he’s alone, and be willing to shoot to kill because he will be. I say alone because if not the other cops will fill you full of holes before you can say "Georgia Code section 17-4-60".

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