The Southern Center of Human Rights issued a press release saying that they have filed a lawsuit on behalf of Whitfield County resident Boyd Green against Whitfield County law enforcement after he was arrested for using foul language on a call to 911. (Note: I did star out the words for our audience since they were uncensored in the press release.):
ATLANTA – Today, lawyers from the Southern Center for Human Rights and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Boyd Green against Whitfield County law enforcement officers who jailed Green for saying the words “bulls***” and “a**hole” during a 911 call. Mr. Green, a 58-year-old, indigent, disabled veteran of the United States Marine Corps, was arrested for uttering two expletives in passing while registering a verbal complaint about a police officer over the telephone. The case, Green v. Chitwood, et al., was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
The pertinent facts are as follows:
In June 2013, Green lived in Rocky Face, Georgia, with his ailing 83-year-old mother, Ada Green. Green was his mother’s sole caretaker.
On June 20, 2013, a Dalton police officer arrested Green for driving under the influence. Green told the officer that his mother was ill and alone, and he implored the officer to have someone check on her. No one checked on Ada Green. Once incarcerated, Green again notified officials about his mother’s condition. No one checked on Ada Green despite Green’s pleas. Green was still in custody, five days later, when Ada Green was found in her home by a friend, deceased. Devastated, Green was subsequently released and placed on probation for DUI.
Nearly one year later, on June 2, 2014, Green dialed 911 and was connected to a 911 dispatcher. Green complained to the 911 dispatcher that his mother died the previous year because law enforcement officials failed to heed his requests to check on Ada Green. During the 82-second 911 phone call, Green did not raise his voice, threaten the 911 dispatcher or anyone else, or insult her in any way. He used expletives two times, in passing. First, he said, “[t]he sorry d*** a**hole knows me,” referring to the Dalton police officer who had arrested him in 2013. Later in the conversation he used the words “d*** bulls***.”
About thirty minutes later, Whitfield County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at Green’s home and arrested him. The stated reason for the arrest was a violation of O.G.C.A. § 16-11-39.2 (B)(1), a Georgia statute that purports to make it illegal to use vulgar language during a 911 call. Green spent three days in jail as a result of the “vulgar language” arrest. The charges against him were later dismissed.
“In this country, people have a right to register a verbal complaint about the police without being jailed as a consequence,” said Sarah Geraghty, Senior Attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights. “Law enforcement officers abused their authority when they arrested Mr. Green for making a complaint about a police officer over the telephone.”
In his lawsuit, Mr. Green’s seeks damages for violation of his First and Fourth Amendment rights and injunctive relief to prevent authorities from enforcing the statute. The defendants are Scott Chitwood, the Sheriff of Whitfield County, and the Sheriff’s deputy who arrested Green.
I wonder how many folks get arrested under this statute for using “vulgar language” while making a call to 911. It seems like it’s a bit much to have someone arrested who may let a word fly from being under duress. Perhaps it’s one of those laws that could be reviewed by one of our lawmaker readers.