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Lawyers Criticize Arrest of Georgia Lawmaker for Knocking on Door as Governor Okayed New Election Crimes


Lawyers are sounding off about the arrest late Thursday of Georgia Rep. Park Cannon (D). The Atlanta lawmaker was handcuffed and led away from state capitol offices where Gov. Brian Kemp (R) was signing a bill which criminalized, among other things, giving water to voters standing in lines at the polls. Cannon is among the many vocal critics of the new laws.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Cannon’s minor offenses included knocking on the governor’s door. The knock reportedly interrupted Kemp’s live announcement that the bill had been signed.

According to the Georgia State Patrol, Cannon “was advised that she was disturbing what was going on inside and if she did not stop, she would be placed under arrest,” spokesman Lt. W. Mark Riley told the Journal-Constitution. “Rep. Cannon refused to stop knocking on the door.”

WSB-TV reported that Cannon knocked on a public door to the governor’s lobby and later knocked on a private door. NBC News obtained video which showed the knock which led to the arrest. It appears to have occurred in an area accessible to the public, as others were standing nearby recording the scene as it unfolded.

WXIA-TV recorded the events from yet another angle:

Court documents reviewed by Law&Crime say Cannon also stomped on an officer’s foot three times.

The lawmaker is charged with obstructing law enforcement and disrupting General Assembly sessions, the paper said. The first charge (§ 16-10-24(b)) is alleged to have involved “violence” and, thus, is a felony punishable by between one and five years in prison. The second charge (§ 16-11-34.1(h)(3)) is alleged in court papers as a third offense, making it a felony punishable by between one and three years in prison.

One version of the incident appears in an Instagram video. In it, a group of white officers surrounds Cannon — who is already in handcuffs — and attempts to move her toward an elevator and out of the building. At first, she walked with them; at another point, she turned backwards. The officers dragged her upright to a waiting elevator. They appeared to ignore multiple and repeated requests to explain precisely why they were detaining Cannon.

“What did she do? What did she do? Can y’all cite the code? What did she do?” one person asked.

“Where are you taking me?” Cannon appears to ask.

“We sit here every single day and we defend these bad bills like SB 202, and all we ask is for her to be able to see them sign a bill that is signing our rights away,” one bystander who appeared to be a fellow lawmaker said in the video. “And you arrested her! She did not touch anybody; she did not say any slanderous words . . . but you’re going to tell me that you arrested a sitting state representative for nothing! She didn’t do anything but knock on the governor’s door! I’m done! I’m so done! I’m so done! Protect and serve who?  rotect and serve who? Protect and serve the Georgians because she knocked on the door? You just arrested a state representative? I’m done.”

“You think this is going to go over well?” one person asked.

“Why, if Governor Kemp is so proud of his bill, and the Georgia GOP is so proud, why are they doing it behind closed doors?” another person asked.

“Cite the code!” people continued to demand of the officers who effectuated the arrest.

Cannon’s attorney, Gerald Griggs, told WSB-TV that the charges were “law enforcement overreach.”

Griggs said he had already talked to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and hoped the charges would dismissed.

Atlanta attorney Page Pate tweeted that the “arrest was both unnecessary and unlawful.”

“A person cannot be arrested for felony obstruction unless the person is ‘offering or doing violence’ to an officer who is acting in the ‘lawful discharge’ of his or her duties,” Pate continued.

Other critics suggested that the statutes simply didn’t fit the alleged conduct:

University of Michigan Law Professor Leah Litman sarcastically reminded the public of the words of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in a 2013 voting rights case.

A fellow state representative publicized a GoFundMe page to help pay for Cannon’s legal fees.

NPR noted that Section IV, Paragraph IX of Georgia’s constitution contains the following provision:

Privilege of members. The members of both houses shall be free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly, or committee meetings thereof, and in going thereto or returning therefrom, except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace. No member shall be liable to answer in any other place for anything spoken in either house or in any committee meeting of either house.

[image via screengrab from WXIA-TV/YouTube]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.