- Rhonda Cook The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A mother posted on her private Facebook page her frustration when her ex-husband, a Washington County deputy sheriff, refused her request to pick up medicine for their sick son.
As often happens, friends wrote in support, with one referring to the ex-husband by the derogatory term “POS.”
Within days, the ex-husband Capt. Corey King and his colleague and friend, Capt. Trey Burgamy, began paperwork to have Anne King and her friend arrested. Both women were later charged with criminal defamation of character — a law that the Georgia Supreme Court found unconstitutional 32 years earlier.
What began as a disagreement between former spouses that was aired on Facebook quickly escalated to a criminal matter. And now a federal lawsuit is pending against the two high-ranking Washington County deputies accused of using their positions in law enforcement to violate Anne King’s civil rights.
On Thursday, a federal judge will be asked to rule on the lawsuit based on the evidence and depositions already on file: Did the two deputies violate Anne King’s constitutional rights, including her right to free speech, or should the case continue to trial?
“It was a classic good ole boy system at work,” is how Anne King’s attorney, Ken Hodges, described the situation. “What she said on Facebook wasn’t that offensive,” Hodges said. “It was her friend that posted the derogatory message.”
The dispute began just before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 2015. Anne King had taken her then 8-year-old son to the emergency room with the flu, returning home with enough medicine to get through the night. Anne King sent a text to Corey King, asking him to pick up ibuprofen for their son and leave it in the mailbox on his way to work.
But Corey King said he was too busy. So the next day Anne King turned to Facebook, writing she was “feeling overwhelmed. That moment when everyone in your house has the flu and you ask your kid’s dad to get them (not me) more Motrin and Tylenol and he refuses.”
One of her friends responded with a post calling Corey King a “POS” and offering to get the medicine.
Corey King demanded in a text message that his ex-wife take down the post, which she did eventually.
But within days, Anne King and her friend, Susan Hines, were summoned to Magistrate Court for a hearing on an application for an arrest warrant.
“I didn’t think I did anything wrong,” Anne King said in an interview.
Corey King explained in a later deposition that his ex-wife had criticized him as a father and embarrassed him. He said he filed the paperwork to have her arrested because he wanted to prevent any other such postings.
“I don’t feel as though the portrayal of my fatherhood was truthful as what I do for my children and what I have done for my children as long as they have been alive,” Corey King said in a deposition. He did not respond to a message seeking comment for this story.
Corey King and his coworker delivered the application for a warrant to Magistrate Judge Ralph Todd.
A hearing followed on Jan. 21, 2015 with Hines, Anne King, Corey King and his current wife, and Burgamy appearing before Todd. Both deputies were in uniform. The charge listed on the application for an arrest warrant was making harassing phone calls.
Recalling the hearing before Todd, Anne King said, “He said he had a good mind to ban me from Facebook. I was shocked.”
When Hines raised a question about her First Amendment right to free speech, the judge responded: “You can call Mr. King a piece of (expletive) to his face. You can even tell someone else you think he is a piece of (expletive). But you can’t post it out for the public to see. That’s defamation of character.”
At the end of the hearing, Todd signed an arrest warrant for both women, changing the charge from harassing phone calls to criminal defamation — a charge he said “fit the crime better.”
Todd would explain later in a deposition that he did not know the Georgia Supreme Court had found criminal defamation unconstitutional in 1982. Todd was elected to his seat, presiding in the Magistrate Court for more than 13 years after he retired from the U.S. Postal Service. He did not attend college or law school, which Georgia law allows.
“Nobody ever notified me that it (the charge of criminal defamation) didn’t have any validity,” Todd said in the deposition taken last October.
The 74-year-old judge did not respond to a request for comment.
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After the hearing was over, Anne King and Hines were taken to jail, where they later bonded out.
“I was humiliated,” Anne King said of the hours she spent in the jail her ex-husband runs. A few weeks later, she said her jail mug shot appeared on the cover of a publication that prints such pictures. Hers was one of four larger than the others on the page with the headline “The not so fantastic four.”
Georgia State University law professor Eric Segall, an expert on constitutional law, said the rules on Facebook are no different than the rules that exist in other situations. “You’re not allowed to threaten somebody,” Segall said. “… Defamation is not protected.”
Corey King said in a deposition there was nothing false in his ex-wife’s posting.
“It sounds like she said nothing on her Facebook page that amounts to a threat. If that’s true there is nothing the courts can do to punish. her,” Segall said. “If she (made) a misstatement of facts that would injure his reputation, if it was false, that would be defamatory… Saying he’s a bad father is opinion and that’s protected.”
When Anne King’s criminal defamation case got before a State Court judge, it was dismissed.
Anne King filed a federal lawsuit in January 2017, charging that the two high-ranking Washington County lawmen used their positions to violate her civil rights. She is asking unspecified monetary damages.
“Corey and Trey thought I was too dumb and too broke to do anything about it,” she said.
In depositions, Corey King and Burgamy said the decision to have Anne King and Hines arrested was solely the judge’s.
During his deposition, Corey King said he initially approached Todd for advice about what he could do to stop any more Facebook postings and “to be left alone.” Todd suggested the arrest warrant, so Corey King asked his friend Burgamy to take his information.
Even the Washington County sheriff, Corey King’s and Burgamy’s boss, blames Todd.
“They presented the evidence before the judge and the judge issued the warrant,” Sheriff Thomas Smith said when asked if Corey King and Burgamy did anything wrong.
He said both deputies are still in “good standing” with the sheriff’s office.