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U.S. Army veteran and retired truck driver Jeffrey Gray is filing a third lawsuit against a third city in Georgia for what he believes to be a violation of his First Amendment rights. Gray was standing outside city hall in Port Wentworth, GA holding a sign that said “God Bless the Homeless Vets” when a police officer arrested him. Gray, who began filming police interactions in 2011 as “civil rights investigations” and posted them to his YouTube channel, filmed the interaction. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), which is representing Gray yet again for this third suit, shared that the police were called, “Because [the sign] made city employees uncomfortable, a police officer told him that the sidewalks were private property and asked that he leave.” FIRE added that “When Jeff began to film the encounter and asked if he was trespassing, the police officer detained him. When Jeff refused to identify himself, saying he would rather leave, he was arrested for refusing to provide identification.” Gray has filed his suit against Port Wentworth Police Lt. Robert Hemminger in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Savannah Division.

FIRE filed two previous lawsuits for Gray on January 31st. The first was against Blackshear, GA’s police chief Chris Wright. Wright issued a criminal citation against Gray for holding his sign outside city hall without a permit. FIRE argued in that case that the city hall’s ordinance was unconstitutional and similar to one struck down in 1969 by the Supreme Court. The city of Blackshear ultimately rescinded the ordinance and paid $1,791 to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. 1791 is the year the First Amendment was ratified. The second lawsuit filed was against Alpharetta, GA and is still pending. “I have been harassed, trespassed, handcuffed, and arrested countless times for peacefully exercising my First Amendment rights,” Gray said at the time. “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.”

The events of this third lawsuit took place in 2021, with Gray being charged with a misdemeanor of “obstruction” and was permanently banned from the sidewalk outside the Port Wentworth city hall. FIRE arranged for a pro bono criminal defense lawyer, with the charges eventually being dropped two years later. FIRE issued a statement regarding the case, saying, “No matter how many lawsuits it takes, FIRE will zealously defend what should be an unambiguous right — to peaceably hold a sign in front of city hall. We’re not just defending Gray’s First Amendment rights; we’re safeguarding the Constitution — a document that U.S. Army veterans, including Gray, bravely served to protect.”


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