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A U.S. Army veteran who was arrested for holding a “God bless the homeless vets” sign in front of a city hall in Georgia is suing, saying his First Amendment rights were violated.
Fox News reports Jeff Gray was detained by two police officers outside of the Alpharetta City Hall while holding his sign in January 2022.
Police told him he was engaging in illegal “panhandling,” according to his legal defense at The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).
“If the First Amendment means anything, it must mean that you can hold a sign in front of city hall without being handcuffed,” FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh told Fox. “We look forward to vindicating Jeff’s rights and reinforcing the rights of all.”
The legal group filed two lawsuits. In them, the city of Alpharetta, two of its police officers and the chief of police of Blackshear, Georgia were targeted.
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“I have been harassed, trespassed, handcuffed and arrested countless times for peacefully exercising my First Amendment rights,” Gray said. “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.”
They didn’t — detaining Gray for “disorderly conduct” and for being “controversial.”— FIRE (@TheFIREorg) February 1, 2023
The police would go on to violate Gray’s First Amendment rights three more times.
You can watch FIRE’s full mini-documentary here: https://t.co/7ERSP8k07y /3 pic.twitter.com/Y0rp3ewqxo
Gray pushed back against the claim he was panhandling, telling the cops he was not asking anyone for money. The officers still told him that if he did not stop, he would be arrested.
When Gray was arrested, the Alpharetta police reportedly seized the camera he was using to record them, searched him to find his ID and banned him from the area, according to Fox.
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“Jeff Gray doesn’t need a government-issued permission slip to speak — the First Amendment is his permission slip,” FIRE attorney Harrison Rosenthal said. “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.”