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Posted: November 1, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Funeral protesters under fire from family

The sister of Lanny Perry Barnes continues to allege that Anita King, Stephanie Casola and the Covington Police Department broke several city ordinances and federal and state laws during the protest of Barnes funeral. However, the City of Covington and District Attorney Ken Wynne said for them the case is closed.
In a 17-page letter to the City of Covington dated Oct. 14, Manetta Barnes-Clemons alleged that King, Casola and three other members who protested Barnes' funeral, violated a total of 17 city ordinances and other laws, including: negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion and intrusion of privacy, harassment, criminal conspiracy, desecration to a grave, criminal littering and unauthorized placement of posters and/or signs on private property.
She also accused: CPD officers and Chief Stacey Cotton of several violations, Wynne and the Newton County grand jury that heard her case of being biased and Councilwoman Ocie Franklin of slander and defamation. In the case that any of these allegations are proven to be true, Barnes-Clemons has asked Cotton and Franklin to be removed from their positions and for Wynne to be removed from the case.

"The Council gave the appearance as if Stephanie Casola, Anita King and three unidentified family members should have immunity from the law simply based on past events and/or emotions. I got the impression that some of the council members were suggesting that we should ignore the laws of the land and just pray," Barnes-Clemons said in the letter. "This has been a very exasperatingly lengthy ongoing cycle of events since July 1, 2009 with absolutely no justice being granted to date."

In a letter dated Oct. 21, City Attorney Ed Crudup responded to Barnes-Clemons on behalf of the city. He responded to four of the offenses that related to city ordinances: injury to plants in cemeteries, the giving out of "public gathering" permits that didn't meet the terms defined in the city ordinance, disorderly conduct and littering on public or private property.

As far as the last two, Crudup wrote that the facts presented to the city were essentially the same as those presented to the grand jury, which chose not to indict anyone. In regards to the injury to plants, Crudup said in the city's opinion no laws were broken.

Regarding the public gathering permit, the city ordinance states that a public gathering is eight people, but the permit was approved even though only five people were to be at the protest.

"This section defines the term "public gathering" for which a permit is required, but does not prohibit the Covington Police Department from granting or conditioning permits upon request to groups smaller than required to constitute a ‘public gathering'," Crudup wrote.

He wrote that the other charges are not within the jurisdiction of the city, and should be addressed to the Newton County Superior Court.

"Accordingly, based on all the information currently available, there will be no further consideration or action taken regarding this matter by the Mayor and Council of the City of Covington," Crudup said.

As far as the county is concerned, the grand jury heard details of a case against King and Casola concerning allegations of disruptive conduct at a funeral service, criminal trespass and unlawful placement of signs. On Oct. 2 the grand jury decided not to indict the sisters, and from that point on the case has been closed, Wynne said.

"There is no avenue of appeal from a decision of a grand jury to not return an indictment," he said.

Regarding the charges against the CPD, the city's response that no violations occurred relates to the police department's actions as well. Wynne had also previously investigated the allegations and found no violation on the CPD's side.

Because Franklin told the Covington News "you can't solve problems with hate", Clemons-Barnes said she wants Franklin to be charged with false light publicity, defamation, libel and slander. The city's letter did not address these concerns.

Despite the city and county's findings, Barnes-Clemons and the NAACP, which has joined in her efforts, said they will keep seeking justice.

"We're disappointed with their decision. I've had communication with Ms. Clemens and I've told her that the fight goes on," said Edward Dubose, president of Georgia State Conference of the NAACP. "We're in process of putting together a letter to the justice department to see what options are available for the justice department to come in. We continue to believe some serious laws were broken, and we continue to support Ms. Clemons."

Dubose said the NAACP is helping Barnes-Clemons explore the process of hiring a lawyer, if she decides she wants to confront the city's decision.

"She has indicated complete disappointment in the city and legal system in Covington, Ga.," Dubose said.

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