COWETA COUNTY, Ga — A Georgia city council tried to have a city resident arrested and charged with a felony for filing too many open records requests.
They also didn’t like the posts critical of city officials on his website.
The city council tried to use a Georgia law intended for people who injure or even kill a police officer.
Grantville city councilman Jim Sells called Channel 2 Consumer Investigator Justin Gray a bully for asking questions about the legal maneuver the city council took against one of its citizens.
Gray tried to catch up with Sells before a council meeting. Sells slammed a door in our crew’s faces.
“You are bully. You’re a bully and you are going to bully me,” Sells told Gray.
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But Grantville resident Robert Royce says it’s the Grantville city council that’s doing the bullying, and he says they are using the power of city government to do it.
“I’m afraid for myself. I’m afraid for my wife, she’s terrified. They want to throw me in prison,” Royce said.
So, what did Royce do?
He filed Georgia open records act requests to obtain city documents and correspondence.
And he posted about what he sees as corruption at city hall on his website.
“You wouldn’t deny you are the squeaky wheel; they probably think you are annoying?” Gray asked. “No, absolutely,” Royce responded.
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Royce admits he’s a pain in the butt for city officials in Grantville, vigorously exercising his constitutional rights.
And we do mean vigorously. He’s filed more than 75 open records requests with the city.
“You can make as many as you want,” Royce said.
But Grantville city council voted to seek a criminal indictment against Royce under HB 838.
It’s intended for people who cause bodily harm, property damage or terrorize police officers.
Grantville city councilman Alan Wacaser introduced the motion but won’t talk to Channel 2 about it.
“I have no comment,” is all he would respond to any of our questions.
But the night the council voted on the measure he said this: “This should be designated criminal charges. Somebody’s got to stand up and have the guts to do something about something like this.”
His fellow council member Jim Sells also refused to talk to us about the reason he voted for the measure.
Instead, turning the conversation to God. Replying to our questions about the vote with the response: “Jesus is king and no matter what happens he will still be king.”
If it all sounds so strange, almost silly — Royce’s attorney Luke Andrews says it’s no laughing matter.
This is a serious criminal charge, with serious prison time.
“What we have is a city that’s gone way too far in an attempt punish and indeed criminalize normal free speech,” Andrews said.
And that’s why Royce says it worked.
He says he stopped attending council meetings or submitting records requests out of fear of retaliation. “I’m just worried what are they going to do, what are they going to say,” Royce said.
So, Royce filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Grantville for violating his constitutional rights
But when asked about Royce’s First Amendment rights Councilman Sells told Gray, “That’s a privilege.”
Royce’s attorney says that’s clearly not what the law says.
“It doesn’t matter whether any of us like that or not and it certainly doesn’t matter if the officials in Grantville like that or not. The law is the law,” Andrews said.
For nearly two months after city council voted to seek criminal charges, Royce had to wait to hear his fate.
Coweta County District Attorney John Cranford Jr. did ultimately decide not to prosecute. He told us in a statement: “I did not believe there was sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation pursuant to any violation of Georgia law.”
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