A Washington County sheriff’s deputy, a sheriff’s investigator and the county itself have been sued for civil rights violations after the arrest and jailing of a Sandersville, Georgia woman for an innocuous social media comment.

The alleged crime that prompted the arrest and imprisonment? Anne King had lamented on Facebook about her ex-husband’s refusal to bring their sick child medicine when she and both of their kids had the flu.

This was the actual post that led to her arrest:

Anne Boyd King – Feeling overwhelmed

That moment when everyone in your house has the flu and you ask your kids’ dad to get them (not me) more Motrin and Tylenol and he refuses.

The federal case, Anne King v. Corey King, Trey Burgamy and Washington County was filed recently in Georgia’s Middle District by Cynthia Counts, Ken Hodges and Andre T. Tennille III.

The attorneys issued this statement: “Our client, like all Americans, is entitled to post her thoughts and feelings on social media. The First Amendment guarantees this, and limits criminal penalties to narrow exceptions such as where the speech would provoke violence or incite a riot. Obviously, Ms. King’s speech embodied no such threat.”

Defendant Corey King is Ms. King’s ex-husband. He works about three miles from her house as a sheriff’s deputy, and he is commander of the Washington County Jail.

In comments about her post, several of Ms. King’s friends expressed their support for her, and one agreed to pick up the medicine and deliver it.  That friend, Susan Hines, also decried the ex-husband’s refusal and characterized him as a “POS.”

After becoming aware of the Facebook activity, Officer King demanded that Ms. King delete the post and comments. She did not do so.

The federal complaint alleges that Officer King and Burgamy, a sheriff’s department investigator, “then cooked up a scheme to have Ms. King charged, arrested and jailed.” First they filed an incident report in which King styled himself as the victim. Then they went to the county magistrate, with whom they work regularly, and got him to issue a notice demanding that Ms. King and Ms. Hines, appear for a warrant hearing.

On January 21, 2015, the women appeared before Chief Magistrate Ralph Todd. Officer King testified that he sought a warrant because of Ms. King’s derogatory statements on Facebook. Todd, who is not a lawyer, decided after the officer’s testimony that Ms. King and Ms. Hines had made “derogatory and degrading comments (about Corey King) … for the purpose of provoking a breach of the peace” and issued warrants for their arrest on criminal defamation charges. During the hearing, the complaint notes, the magistrate even threatened to “ban [Ms. King] from Facebook.”

As a matter of law, there is no such crime as criminal defamation in Georgia. The statute regarding that offense was declared unconstitutional 33 years ago. At the time the warrants were issued, criminal defamation was still listed in the official Georgia Law Enforcement Handbook that judges and police use. But right under the code it clearly states that the law was ruled unconstitutional in 1982. And it has since been officially repealed.

Ms. King was placed in a patrol car for a humiliating ride to the jail. At the jail, there were challenges processing the two women. The fingerprinting system requires a code for each detainee, but there was no code for criminal defamation (because there is no criminal defamation statute.) Nevertheless, Ms. King was jailed for four hours before bonding out for $1,000.

Later, Ms. King returned to court, appearing before a state court judge who, the complaint notes, agreed there was no basis for the arrest and added, “I don’t even know why we are here.”

The solicitor dropped the case but threatened other charges. In the months since, Officer King has threatened to use police authority again to have Ms. King charged with “willful contempt,” according to the complaint.

The federal lawsuit alleges that Officer King and Investigator Burgamy intentionally violated Ms. King’s civil rights and that she was the victim of false arrest, malicious prosecution and a conspiracy by Officer King and Investigator Burgamy to violate her First and Fourth Amendment Rights. The suit also alleges that the county’s failure to train its officers on the law “in the face of repeated incidents” like the King case constitutes deliberate indifference to civil rights.  

In comments to Atlanta's FOX 5, which recently broadcast a story on the case, Cynthia Counts noted, "This was so innocuous it was fairly shocking.

"Even if she did say something mean about him, what difference does it make? It's hard to imagine that anybody could think that this post is a basis for arrest."