Curfew in place, graffiti outlawed

By Ed Brock

Nadine Boado is happy to comply with Clayton County's new curfew.

The 17-year-old rising senior at Jonesboro High School isn't one to hang out after midnight, anyway.

"I won't so much be affected, but I know people who will be," Boado said. "They're in for a very rude awakening."

On Tuesday the Clayton County Commission passed an ordinance setting the curfew in place. They also passed another ordinance requiring businesses to clean up graffiti on their buildings within 30 days or they would face a criminal charge.

Both laws have some connection to the ongoing problem of youth violence in the county.

"This is an attempt to get the kids off the street to make it a safer environment for the community and the kids," Clayton County Assistant Police Chief Jeff Turner said regarding the curfew.

Under the ordinance children 17 years old and younger cannot be loitering or hanging around in public between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and between midnight and 6 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

"It's not considered a criminal offense but a status offense," Turner said.

That means any young person found in violation of the curfew will be turned over to their parents or legal guardian, or if that isn't possible they will be put into "protective custody" and brought to a shelter, not the youth detention center.

There will be exceptions, Turner said. For example, if a child is coming home from a movie that ends after the curfew begins or is on an errand for their parent the officer can chose to let them go, after confirming their story with the parent.

"They have to have a logical reason," Turner said.

That aspect of the law is important, Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske said, because previous curfew sweeps in the county picked up youths who didn't deserve to be arrested.

In fact, without the words "wandering or loitering about" the law would violate the child's constitutional right to freedom of association, Teske said.

Teske said there is a case out of Fayette County that set the precedent for exceptions to the curfew law. Police there stopped a teen-age boy who was driving his scooter home from his grandmother's house, initially stopping him for a broken tail light.

The teen was charged with curfew violation and found guilty, but when he appealed the appellate court overturned the verdict because the teen had a reason to be out.

Any teen who is cited for violating the curfew would have to appear before a juvenile court judge like Teske for disposition. Teske said if it is a first offense the offender could be sent to a diversion program, but if they have a record of other offenses they could be placed on probation as an unruly child.

Also, the county ordinance can be applied to the parents of the youthful offender if they knowingly allow the child to wander around after hours, Turner said. And businesses that don't enforce the curfew can also be cited.

In those cases the person being cited would face a fine of up to $1,000 or up to six months in jail.

Minors sometimes come to shoot pool at Tara Billiards and Game Room, owner Thurman Laughridge said.

"We usually go by the curfew," Laughridge said, but he added one concern. "The problem I have is I'd rather see 'em in here than on the street."

As for the graffiti ordinance, Turner said that business owners who don't clean the graffiti off their buildings in 30 days could also face a fine of up to $1,000 or up to six months to jails. After the first 30 days every day the graffiti remains is considered a new charge.

The point of that law is to discourage "tagging," a practice by gangs to use graffiti to mark their territory and threaten other gangs, Turner said. He didn't think most businesses would have a problem complying with the law.

"Why would they want that graffiti on their building," Turner said.