- Jeff Gray, a U.S. Army veteran, filed two lawsuits with Freedom for Individual Rights and Expression after being arrested for holding a sign outside of government buildings that says “God Bless the Homeless Vets.”
- During one of the incidents listed in the lawsuit, officers arrested Gray, turned off his camera and performed a search after “witnesses” said the veteran had been asking for money.
- “If the First Amendment means anything, it must mean that you can hold a sign in front of city hall without being handcuffed,” Adam Steinbaugh, FIRE attorney, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Freedom for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) filed two lawsuits on behalf of Jeff Gray, a U.S. Army veteran, after he was arrested and issued a criminal citation for holding a sign saying “God Bless The Homeless Vets” outside of two different government buildings in Georgia.
Gray stood on a public sidewalk by Alpharetta City Hall with his sign and again at Blackshear City Council and both times, police officers told Gray that he was not allowed to be outside government buildings with his sign, leading to an arrest and a criminal citation, according to the lawsuits. In response, FIRE announced that it had filed two lawsuits against Alpharetta officers Arick Furr and Harold Shoffeitt and Blackshear police Chief Chris Wright Tuesday for violating his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression, according to the press release. (RELATED: Former Student Appeals Trespass Conviction After Handing Out US Constitution Copies At Arizona State University)
“I have been harassed, trespassed, handcuffed and arrested countless times for peacefully exercising my First Amendment rights,” Gray said in the press release. “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.”
Gray stood outside of Alpharetta City Hall on Jan. 27, 2022, holding a sign that read “God Bless the Homeless Vets” for several minutes before being approached by Furr, who told Gray that he could not “panhandle” in front of city hall, to “move along” and “leave the downtown area, period.” Gray continued to stand outside city hallFurr confronted him again and demanded identification, to which Gray showed his driver’s license but did not give it to Furr.
Gray asked Furr what “reasonable, articulable suspicion that crime is afoot” that the officer needed to have his ID, to which Furr replied that “panhandling” was illegal in Alpharetta, according to the lawsuit.
“When Gray laughed in disbelief and took a step away from Lt. Furr, the lieutenant immediately grabbed Gray’s right wrist and ordered him to ‘put your hands behind your back,’ saying, ‘I’m not going to deal with you,'” the lawsuit said.
LAWSUIT: U.S. Army Veteran Jeff Gray has been repeatedly stopped, detained, searched, and arrested by police.
His alleged crime? Holding signs — in front of city halls across Georgia.
Yesterday, FIRE sued on his behalf.https://t.co/7eM7ORMpT3
— FIRE (@TheFIREorg) February 1, 2023
Furr said that two individuals had told him that Gray was asking for money, a claim Gray denied, replying that he had a camera recording his entire time at the hall to prove he had never asked for charity, according to the lawsuit. Furr immediately turned off the camera, later writing in his report that he “knew that he should not have manipulated the camera
and should have allowed the camera to continue to record.”
Shoffeitt also interrogated Gray during the arrest, continuing to allege that the veteran had been asking people for money and said that people told him and Furr that Gray was being “controversial.”
Adam Steinbaugh, FIRE attorney and staff speaker, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that they looked forward to “vindicating” Gray.
In a similar instance on Aug. 8, 2021, Gray held a sign outside of Blackshear City Council and was approached by Chief Chris Wright who told Gray if he was “demonstrating” he had to obtain a “permit first to demonstrate on any public property,” according to the lawsuit. Wright read the statute in question, but Gray continued to hold his sign outside the building, leading Wright to order a second officer, Charlie Wichman, to issue Gray a criminal citation.
“Jeff Gray doesn’t need a government-issued permission slip to speak — the First Amendment is his permission slip,” Harrison Rosenthal, FIRE attorney, said in the press release. “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.”
Adam Ferrell, Blackshear’s city attorney, told DCNF that he was “aware” of FIRE’s lawsuit.
“We are aware of the civil complaint filed by Jeffrey Gray against Chris Wright, Chief of Blackshear Police Department,” Ferrell said.”At this time, we are in the process of reviewing the court documents and allegations contained in them and will be making our response through the legal process.”
Furr and Shoffeitt did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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