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Lawsuit alleges Newton sheriff violated man's rights by stopping filming
DA drops charges after arrest outside Law Enforcement Center on loitering, obstruction charges
Newton County Sheriff's Office
Newton County Sheriff's Office headquarters on Alcovy Road. - photo by Special to The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — The Newton County District Attorney's office has dropped charges the sheriff's office brought against a Gainesville man who claims the sheriff and two deputies violated his constitutional rights by damaging his camera equipment and arresting him for filming in public areas on the grounds of the county Law Enforcement Center.

Joshua Randolph, who operates a YouTube channel and Facebook page under the name Georgia Guardian, also has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging Sheriff Ezell Brown and Deputy Timothy Smith "smashed" the man's film equipment while filming a news segment for his social media pages and Smith used excessive force against him after handcuffing and arresting him. 

District Attorney Randy McGinley said his office moved to dismiss warrants against Randolph on charges of Willful Obstruction and Loitering or Prowling because "there is insufficient evidence to prove the guilt" of Randolph "beyond a reasonable doubt”  despite his arrest Sept. 28.  

Randolph has since posted a video of part of the confrontation on his social media pages.

On the videos posted on his Georgia Guardian YouTube page, Randolph typically does a "First Amendment audit" at the headquarters of a Georgia police department or sheriff's office and shoots video of the vehicles and equipment on-site. 

His videos also have documented his stops at police or sheriff's departments in Douglas, Oconee, Greene, Barrow and Lincoln counties, and the cities of Winder, Cumming, Eatonton and Braselton, among others.

Officers or the police chief or sheriff also often confront him and Randolph said he always tells whoever confronts him he is gathering content for a story. He also does not show ID — maintaining that Georgia law only requires showing ID to an officer in the event of a traffic stop.

Georgia law does not require ID be shown to a law enforcement officer unless operating a vehicle or the officer has probable cause to believe the person has violated the law, according to information from the ACLU of Georgia.

Randolph's lawsuit in federal court alleges his First, Fourth, and 14th Amendment rights were violated and the law enforcement officers broke Georgia law when they seized his camera equipment and brought criminal charges against him for "filming in public places."

In the lawsuit, Randolph said he is an "independent journalist" who "films and produces independent news videos focusing on issues of government accountability throughout Georgia."

"He posts these videos online for free public viewing. Over 20,000 viewers currently subscribe to his YouTube channel."

The lawsuit stated Randolph traveled to the Newton County Law Enforcement Center on Alcovy Road Sept. 28 with a tripod and a touch screen handheld camera "to videotape and photograph the law enforcement area." He filmed "public accessible signs and banners and other stored items on the property" and various parked sheriff's office vehicles in the publicly accessible areas before Sheriff Ezell Brown approached him. 

"Sheriff Brown demanded to know why Mr. Randolph was recording. Mr. Randolph informed him he was gathering content for a story. Sheriff Brown stated, 'We do not allow recording there,'" the lawsuit stated.

He said Brown then called for "additional assistance to deal with Mr. Randolph." Deputy Timothy Smith soon arrived and Brown asked Randolph for an ID and ordered him to put down his camera.

"Mr. Randolph attempted to reiterate that he was in a public area and ascertain why he was being told to put down his camera as the visitor's parking is a publicly accessible area. Sheriff Brown and Deputy Timothy Smith did not address his question, and quickly snatched Mr. Randolph's cameras from him and smashed the equipment on the ground."

Randolph alleged Smith then pulled his arms behind his back, began pushing him towards a parked patrol truck, searched him "without his consent" and he "was told he didn't have permission to be on Sheriff's Department property."

Randolph said he had no ID and did not need to show one because he "was not breaking any law." Smith then began pushing Randolph "down the public sidewalk towards the entrance of the Law Enforcement Center."

After arriving at the public entrance Smith told Randolph not to return "or he would lock him up and he could consider that a threat," Randolph alleged in the lawsuit.

Randolph then told Maj. Sammy Banks he could "record anything he could see from a publicly accessible place" and Smith handcuffed him and told him he was under arrest on a charge of Criminal Trespass.

"Mr. Randolph was then forced to endure a painful walk back to the Law Enforcement Center due to (Smith) pulling Mr. Randolph arms up to his head while in handcuffs. Smith informed Randolph and Banks "that he did not care that Mr. Randolph was in pain."

"Deputy Timothy Smith informed Mr. Randolph that he could do what he wanted, after Mr. Randolph asked Deputy Timothy Smith repeatedly why he was doing this.

"Mr. Randolph never raised his voice, uttered fighting words, or acted in a violent or tumultuous manner. Mr. Randolph remained calm and professional throughout his encounters despite being repeatedly assaulted" and was subsequently arrested on charges of Loitering and Willful Obstruction of Law Enforcement.

Randolph said he was performing "clearly constitutionally protected freedom of the press activity." Detaining Randolph, seizing his camera, bringing criminal charges against him and interfering with his filming violated his First Amendment rights, the lawsuit alleges.

He said his Fourth Amendment rights were violated during his "unlawful seizure and arrest" because "the facts within defendants' knowledge were not sufficient to establish probable cause that Mr. Randolph committed the crime of Loitering, Willful Obstruction or any other criminal offense."

Randolph also said Brown, Smith and others were liable for damages not less than $1,000 plus attorneys' fees and costs.

He is asking the court for a jury trial on his claims and for punitive damages against Brown, Smith, Maj. Sammy Banks, and Newton County; and civil penalties under the Georgia Open Records Act.

Brown declined comment on the lawsuit or the video Randoph posted.

The video can be seen by visiting: