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Athens bookstore files lawsuit against Gwinnett County Sheriff, Jail Commander

By Austin Eller News Director

An Athens bookstore has filed a lawsuit against Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor and Gwinnett County Jail Commander Benjamin Hayes over allegations that a jail book intake policy is violating First Amendment rights of inmates.

The lawsuit was filed Friday by Avid Bookshop, LLC, in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Georgia.  You can view the full lawsuit by clicking here.

The suit cites a Gwinnett County Jail policy in which inmates can only receive physical copies of books if they are sent to the jail by an "authorized retailer," as deemed by the sheriff's office.

Avid said in the suit that it has shipped multiple books to the jail as requested by friends or family of inmates. Those books were later returned to Avid after jail staff deemed they were not an "authorized retailer."

Avid claims the policy categorically excludes physical bookstores from being authorized retailers. The suit claims an Avid employee spoke with a Gwinnett County Jail Deputy about the situation in May 2023. That deputy reportedly told Avid that the jail only accepted books from Amazon and Barnes & Noble due to the possibility that contraband from friends or family of inmates could be included in books shipped by local bookstores.

However, Avid said its employees are the only ones who have access to books before they are shipped. 

While the deputy mentioned those two big box retailers over the phone, Avid claims the jail has refused to release a list of authorized retailers and how a book retailer might apply to be added to that list. Additionally, Avid cited concerns regarding Barnes & Noble being on the list if other brick-and-mortar stores are not allowed.

"The exclusion of 'brick and mortar' bookstores appears to have been inconsistently applied with respect to the mega-chain bookseller Barnes & Noble, which has physical bookstores situated within local communities but arguably less control over who comes into contact with books before they are shipped than does a small, single-store operation like Avid," the suit said.

Avid suggests in the lawsuit that the jail could require bookstores with physical locations to ship only brand-new books after they have been exclusively handled by the bookstore's staff.

"Accommodating Avid's First Amendment rights will not have a detrimental impact on the Jail's employees or on other individuals at the Jail who still must open and screen all book shipments coming into the Jail, regardless of the identity of the publisher or retailer who sent the shipment," the lawsuit said.

Avid is seeking a jury trial in the case. They are specifically asking the court to issue a judgment that the policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. They are also seeking nominal and compensatory damages, among other requests.

  • Associated Categories: Homepage, Local/State News
  • Associated Tags: Athens, Gwinnett County, gwinnett county sheriff's office, Athens-Clarke County, lawsuit, Keybo Taylor
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