Legal or Illegal? On Halloween, Georgia Town Will Lock Sex Offenders in City Hall

by | October 24, 2018

By Amanda King

As Grovetown prepares to house sex offenders in its council chambers on Halloween night, questions have arisen about the plan's legality.

Titus Nichols, an associate with Bell and Brigham Attorneys at Law in Augusta, said the city might not have the authority to hold 25 to 30 sex offenders on the holiday from 6-9 p.m., with probation officers and an officer from the Grovetown Police Department present.

Mayor Gary Jones said the action is being conducted with the Georgia Community Services Probation Department and is legal.

"If they are not on probation, they are not under the thumb of the government," Nichols said.

Those on probation might not be obligated to appear either.

"I can't imagine a single judge in Augusta revoking probation because they did not comply," he said.

Nichols added that many sex offenders are not necessarily child molesters but have committed a sex-related crime.

The announcement about the Halloween plan came from Jones' Facebook page just after 3 a.m. Monday and immediately drew criticism. That evening, Jones made a second post: "Friends I am not personally going to pick up, round up, call or going to any sex offender's home. This is a joint effort with GA Community Probation Services. They are the ones with the authority under special conditions to require that offenders report. The reporting location is Grovetown City Hall. This is legal.....good grief!"

Jones originally planned to make a public statement Wednesday morning but after reportedly receiving hundreds of emails and social media messages from all over the country, he opted not to make a statement.

"This matter is legal and was not intended to draw the scrutiny it has," City Administrator and Public Information Officer John Waller said in a statement. "The city will proceed as coordinated Halloween night but does not plan any additional media engagements on this topic."

Jones' decision is being criticized by a member of the city council.

"I am truly taken aback, and I am speaking out against this unconstitutional and unlawful act, and I urge other members of the council to speak up and speak out against such a negligent act that would be a clear breach of duty on the part of the mayor," Deborah Fisher wrote in an email. "This act is unlawful, negligent and an unethical act, and it is a clear violation of the rights of any person who is held against their will."

The Richmond County Sheriff's Office said there are no legal requirements in the law that allows them to detain sex offenders without cause. Sex offenders do have certain legal requirement, but those can vary on a case by case basis, according to the sheriff's office.

The Department of Community Supervision is in charge of enforcing any additional requirements for sex offenders on probation, the sheriff's office stated.

(c)2018 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.)