Anne King of Washington County, Georgia, was furious at her former husband and called him out on Facebook.
Susan Hines, a friend of King’s, responded..
“POS — give me an hour and check your mailbox. I’ll be GLAD to pick up the slack.”
Unfortunately, King’s crummy father of an ex-husband is also an ignorant jerk with a badge. He is Captain Corey King of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, and used his power in this small town to have both Anne her supportive friend arrested and tossed in jail for absolutely protected free speech on social media. First the captain filed a police report with his colleague, Washington County Sheriff’s Investigator Trey Burgamy. Then Washington County magistrate Ralph O. Todd issued a warrant requiring the two women to appear at a hearing. Officer King was the only witness, and afterwards Magistrate Todd issued warrant charging Anne King with criminal defamation:
“SUBJECT DID, WITHOUT A PRIVILEGE TO DO SO AND WITH INTENT TO DEFAME ANOTHER, COMMUNICATE FALSE MATTER WHICH TENDS TO EXPOSE ONE WHO IS ALIVE TO HATRED, CONTEMPT, OR RIDICULE, AND WHICH TENDS TO PROVOKE A BREACH OF THE PEACE, SPECIFICALLY, SUBJECT DID MAKE DEROGATORY AND DEGRADING COMMENTS DIRECTLY AT AND ABOUT COREY KING, FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING A BREACH OF THE PEACE.”
The Georgia law she was charged with was ruled unconstitutional decades ago, and is no longer on the books.
When the ex-Mrs. King asked the magistrate about her First Amendment rights, Todd, who is not a lawyer but ran unopposed nonetheless, and is, as you will see, an idiot as well, replied,
“You can call Mr. King a piece of shit to his face You can even tell someone else you think he is a piece of shit. But you can’t post it out for the public to see. That’s defamation of character.”
No, it’s not. That’s an opinion, and completely protected speech. But Todd, like Captain King, has power to abuse. He is also so unqualified to be a magistrate that it makes my hair hurt. I’m not even sure you could prove “POS” in the offending post meant “piece of shit.” “Palpably Offensive Spouse”? “Perhaps Obstructing Shared-parenting”?
At the end of the hearing, Hines was allowed to drive herself to jail, but deputies handcuffed Anne King and transported her to a cell. Both women were fingerprinted and booked. Anne King made bail, and a few days later returned to court before a different judge who actually knew something about the law. The charges against her were dismissed immediately.
Anne King is suing Captain King, Investigator Burgamy, and Washington County for civil rights violations and various state torts. Good. Not good: the ridiculous magistrate can’t be sued because of judicial immunity. (Ethics Alarms had a contentious debate about that here.)
Writing about the case at Popehat, Ken White is both angry and cynical, which suits him well:
“Anne King’s story is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a rare one. Particularly with the rise of social media, law enforcement officers across the country have been abusing the legal system to retaliate against insults…Anne King has First Amendment rights, in theory. Their nature and extent are well defined by the courts. It’s straightforward to respect them. But what does it mean to say she has those rights? In Washington County, Georgia — population approximately 21,000 — with a hostile ex-husband a Captain of the Sheriff’s Department, and with Ralph Todd as a magistrate, does she really have them in any meaningful way? What is a right, when the state defies it?”
I see the case a bit differently. Any time incompetent and ignorant people are handed positions of power, that power is likely to be abused. The public needs to be educated sufficiently to know that you don’t elect a magistrate who isn’t a lawyer. The law enforcement profession must police itself, refusing to place power in the hands of ignorant and unethical people like Captain King. States have to immediately take firm and punitive action against local officials who persecute citizens like this.
Systems only work as ethically as the people within them. Systems can’t make people ethical. People make systems unethical.