Two years after being arrested for simply holding up a sign saying “God Bless the Homeless Vets” outside the city hall of Port Wentworth, Georgia, Jeff Gray has finally reached an agreement with the city that involves it apologizing to him and cutting checks to various parties.
As background, Mr. Gray was arrested in July of 2021. All he was doing was holding a sign saying “God Bless the Homeless Vets” outside of the city hall, an act that is not illegal, but the city officials decided that they didn’t want him there and tried to get him to go away. “He can’t stand in front of our city hall talking about ‘support the homeless vets.’ We can’t have that,” a city employee said.
So the police were sent to deal with Mr. Gray, with then-Sergeant Robert Hemminger demanding that Gray “find another location” to hold his sign. Gray refused, saying that he would “rather not” do so. Sgt. Hemminger then asked why Gray wanted to stand in that particular spot, and Gray responded by saying, “God put it in my heart to stand right here and spread the message ‘God bless the homeless veterans.’” The confrontation, though Gray remained polite and civil throughout, eventually led to his being arrested and moved off the property.
Watch Gray’s confrontation with the police here:
Well, Gray sued, and FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, got involved in helping him out. FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh, commenting on the case, said, “If police departments do not create a culture of respect for constitutional rights, their officers will view them as a game. When police officers treat the Constitution as a game, we all lose.”
Now, two years later, the city and Mr. Gray settled. FIRE, announcing the victory, said, “As part of the settlement, the city agreed to donate a symbolic $1,791 to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans —a nod to the First Amendment’s ratification in 1791 — and will give $1,791 each to Gray and FIRE.”
Gray, speaking about his victory and the importance of the First Amendment, said, “Port Wentworth found out the hard way that it can’t try to bulldoze my rights and get away with it. I’m thankful for the outcome here, but I won’t stop speaking out on behalf of myself and my fellow citizens.”
The agreement also requires law enforcement First Amendment training, providing, “The City will provide two hours of First Amendment training, conducted by a reputable non-profit legal organization, to each of its law enforcement officers once every twelve months for five years. The first two-hour training video course is titled “Responding to First Amendment Auditors,” course number ITCW23198, produced by the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.”
The City also has to rescind, under the settlement agreement, the trespass notice that was issued to Mr. Gray when he was arrested for holding the sign by city hall and refusing to leave, clearing his record on that front.
Featured image credit: YouTube/Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression
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