Originally created 07/27/06

Request to court may stall evictions



Joseph Linaweaver might face a forced relocation by police this weekend.

At age 16, the now 22-year-old Martinez resident was arrested and later convicted of sodomy after a consensual oral sex act with his then 14-year-old girlfriend.

Registered as a sex offender in Columbia County, Mr. Linaweaver is one of about 30 other sex offenders who might be forced to move 1,000 feet away from a school bus stop to abide by a new state law.

"What options does he have?" asked Mr. Linaweaver's mother, Renee.

"He's going to be homeless or he's going to be in prison. That's his only choice."

Jobless, Mr. Linaweaver lives with his parents on the 400 block of Old Anderson Road. He did not return a phone message Wednesday.

"My son has never hurt a child in his life," Mrs. Linaweaver said. "He would never even think about hurting a child. He was a stupid 16-year-old."

Mr. Linaweaver's one hope to remain home is a request for a temporary restraining order filed Wednesday that would bar police in Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties from evicting registered sex offenders who live within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop.

The motion, filed in federal court by attorneys for the Southern Center for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union, is in response to Tuesday's federal ruling that lifted a temporary restraining order blocking police from enforcing the state law banning sex offenders from living near bus stops.

In lifting the order, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ruled bus stops must be officially designated by local school boards for the law to apply.

"He deemed there were no existing bus stops at the time, so people were in no imminent harm," said Sara Totonchi, the public policy director for the Southern Center for Human Rights. "Now, we can see in the difference of 12 hours that harm is there as far as people being forced from their homes."

Four hours after Judge Cooper's ruling, the Columbia County Board of Education passed a resolution officially designating all of its more than 5,000 bus stops. The resolution was requested by Danny Craig, the district attorney for Burke, Columbia and Richmond counties.

On Tuesday evening, police in Columbia County began making phone calls to sex offenders affected by the board's resolution, giving them 72 hours to move, said Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris.

Initially, Center for Human Rights officials considered Judge Cooper's ruling a victory, since they believed school systems would not designate school bus stops, thus making the law unenforceable, said the center's director Lisa Kung.

"It's unfortunate that Columbia County had a meeting that they were able to be pressured by the district attorney into passing something that evicts families out of their homes," Ms. Kung said. "That's not the function of a school board."

In an e-mail, Mr. Craig wrote that he only asked the school board for a resolution to abide by Judge Cooper's ruling.

As the only school system thus far to designate its bus stops, Ms. Kung said the board painted a bulls-eye on itself as a target for a possible lawsuit.

"We're hoping that the school system will on its own take a look at people like Joey (Mr. Linaweaver) and say, 'Oh God, we didn't mean to do that,'" Ms. Kung said.

"I don't want to sue a school board, but it could come to that, because they are the ones who have taken an action."

The hope, Ms. Kung said, is that other Georgia school systems will refrain from designating bus stops until state lawmakers can narrow the scope of the law not to include Mr. Linaweaver and others like him.

In hindsight, Columbia County school board Chairman Wayne Bridges said he wishes the board had taken time to consider all the ramifications of the resolution before adopting it.

"All we knew was that the sheriff's department needed this to enforce the law," Mr. Bridges said. "I don't want to stand in the way of any law enforcement official.

"At the same time, looking back on it, we probably needed to sit back and look at this thing more carefully."

Judge Cooper will hear arguments on the temporary restraining order today at 2:30 p.m.

Staff writer Sandy Hodson contributed to this article.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper will hear arguments on a motion filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights at 2:30 p.m. today.