The University of Georgia School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic is currently defending the denial of qualified immunity in a lawsuit against officers in the Camden County Sheriff’s Office. The case is brought on behalf of Mrs. Emma Jane Prospero, a retired resident of Woodbine, Georgia who was prosecuted in retaliation for exercising her free speech and petition rights by calling Camden County 911 to request help stopping gunshots near her home.

In December 2023, the United States District Court for the Sourthern District of Georgia denied qualified immunity to the defendant officers with respect to Mrs. Prospero’s malicious-prosecution and First Amendment-retaliation claims. The court dismissed a deliberate-indifference claim against the Camden County Sheriff for hiring one of the officers. Defendants have appealed the denial of qualified immunity to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

This case arises from a 911 phone call that Mrs. Prospero made on Thanksgiving Day 2018, asking that the Sheriff’s Office stop gunshots near her home. In retaliation for Mrs. Prospero’s protected speech seeking assistance from law enforcement, Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Sullivan swore out an arrest warrant affidavit, falsely accusing her of calling with the intent to interfere with the 911 telephone service. Mrs. Prospero was later arrested in January 2019 and spent two nights detained in the Camden County Jail under health-harming and degrading conditions. Nine months later the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute and dismissed the charge.

The First Amendment Clinic filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Mrs. Prospero in October 2020, asserting violations of her First and Fourth Amendment rights.

The following Clinic students and legal fellows have advanced the case under the supervision of Clinic director Clare Norins:

Spring 2024 – Mona Abboud, Paige Batten, Alex Klein
Fall 2023
– Katie Davis, Nico Boggs, Mona Abboud, Eli Klenberg, Alex Klein, Alex Cross
Summer 2023 – Anyamobi Ananaba, Alex Cross
Spring 2023 – Joshua Dillard, Mia McKnight
Fall 2022 – Colton Carpenter, Hanna Esserman, Maryam Shokry
Summer 2022 – Marlene Berroa Rodriguez, Kyle Steinberg
Spring 2022 – Ben Causey, Emma Courtney, Matthew Hashemi
Fall 2021 – Jack Mahon, Paige Medley, Brianna Yates
Summer 2021 – Daniel Zimmer
Spring 2021 – Janay Alexander, Mark Bailey, Kirstiana Perryman
Fall 2020 – Janay Alexander, Wess Helton
Summer 2020 – Jeffrey Murphy

Law Fellows – Allyson Veile, Ashley Fox, Samantha Hamilton, Lindsey Floyd, and David Afahame

Boardroom meeting debate.

The Issue

Speech-Based Retaliation

The First Amendment prohibits the government from retaliating against individuals exercising their rights to free speech, press, assembly, and petition of the government for redress of grievances. Read more about our work to address retaliation against individuals who have engaged in protected expression, newsgathering, and petitioning.

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