The death of Lanny Perry Barnes officially closed his legal case, but the protest of his funeral in July brought back up a wave of emotions and once again left two grieving families in its wake.
The Barnes family feels that the protest was not only grossly inappropriate but also illegal, and they have alleged that several laws were broken by the King and Casola families and the Covington Police Department during and after that July 2 protest.
In 2006, Barnes was convicted of killing 2-year-old Avery Nicole King outside the McDonald’s restaurant on U.S. Highway 278, an event which devastated the King and Casola families. He died on June 24 and the King and Casola families protested outside of his funeral on July 2 at Westview Cemetery.
After a month of unanswered inquiries into the protest and the CPD’s actions, Manetta Barnes-Clemons, Barne's sister, decided she would finally bring the issue directly before the city’s leaders.
“We therefore still stand before you today with no report, no justice, no arrests. A grieving family allowed to be harassed, embarrassed, disrespected, violated and left with feelings of extreme mental anguish as officers of the law watched and stood guard protecting those committing criminal acts against us,” Clemons said.
Clemons listed 10 violations of state and local ordinances in her speech, including protesting within 500 feet of a funeral, using signs that conveyed fighting words, desecration of a grave site and tampering with evidence. The last two violations dealt with protest signs being placed on Barnes’ grave after the funeral and the police removing and later destroying those signs.
She said that both the police department and district attorney have said no crimes or laws were broken.
District Attorney Ken Wynne said he reviewed all of Clemons’ initial allegations, and he did indeed find that no laws had been broken by either the protestors or the CPD.
However, CPD Chief Stacey Cotton recently brought up a state ordinance that could possibly be a violation, O.C.G.A. 16-11-34.2, which does not allow anyone to conduct a “public assembly, parade, demonstration, or other like event, either fixed or processional, within 500 feet of the ceremonial site or location being used for a funeral or memorial service at any time one hour prior to, during, or one hour after the posted time.”
Wynne said that he is reviewing all the facts and circumstances of the protest to see if this law was in fact broken. However, at this time this is only allegation he is still investigating. He also specified that even if the protestors broke this law the police would not be held responsible, because they had no intent to break the law, which was only passed within the past couple years, and were trying to keep the peace.
The family believes that several more laws were broken and the NAACP has joined the family’s fight.
Georgia NAACP President Edward Dubose spoke at Monday’s council meeting and requested that the city council vote to investigate these allegations. He said the NAACP’s legal department had reviewed the allegation and believed laws were broken. He said the NAACP would not let this issue go until justice is served.
“We believe some violations have taken place in your city and the leadership, from the mayor’s office to the city manager, even to the district attorney and the police officers, and are allowing it to take place” Dubose said. “I will assure you, I will assure you that we will be back and will take this case personal.”
Mayor Kim Carter said that the city council room was not a court of law, and because of the legal nature of the situation, she directed Dubose and the family to write down any requests for the city council and send those to City Attorney Ed Crudup.
John Evans, president of Operation LEAD, said the fact that the family could not even get a meeting with district attorney or city was reprehensible. He said that if the situation was reversed and a black family had protested a white funeral they wouldn’t have been issued a permit and would have been locked up if they protested, a sentiment which was supported local NAACP Member Archie Shepherd.
The Barnes family and representatives did say that race was not a factor, but Dubose said the NAACP did see possible racial tones, because the family is black and the law enforcement leadership is white.
Dubose said that the family would be sending a letter to the city council requesting specific actions, and he would also be continuing to educate the community on the issue to garner more support for the Barnes family.
Mayor Pro-Tem Hawnethia Williams said there needs to be closure, because these tragedies had polarized the community. She said she would continue to pray for both families.
“Even though we are policy makers and we have rules we have to abide by, we are also individuals, with personalities and we remember who we are and whose we are … (we recognize) that there is a spirituality involved and are concerned about what you have and not just rules and regulations and laws,” she said.
Williams asked the Rev. Harold Cobb to comment on the matter, and he said that he just requested that everyone work together so that they can work past these issues.
When Councilwoman Ocie Franklin began to say that the family needs to let everything go before they can have closure, the family and other members walked out of the meeting.
Dubose said Wednesday that the family was walking out on the council, not just Franklin, because they felt she was repeating the same things and wasn’t respecting the family’s needs.
“We felt that they continued to disrespect us, and the family said we can’t take it no longer, and they decided to leave rather than be subjected to that,” Dubose said.
After the meeting Franklin said she knows the family is hurt but they won’t have closure if they hate in their hearts.
“You can’t solve problems with hate. The (King and Casola families) were wrong to march, but I can’t make it right. I can’t take it back. But we can work together to change,” Franklin said. She added that if the group makes specific requests of the council they will consider them.
Officially, the council said that all questions need to go through City Attorney Ed Crudup, because of the legal nature of the issues, and Dubose said the family and NAACP would be sending that letter soon.