Officers with the Atlanta Police Department are being accused of invasive searches. Last year, the city paid almost $300,000 in just two lawsuits brought against officers who inappropriately touched the genitals of citizens, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The issue is that officers aren’t stopping either—seemingly learning nothing from the past lawsuits.
This week the City Council voted to settle a case with five men for $470,000. The men say that officers pulled down their pants when looking for drugs and touched them inappropriately. No drugs were found, incidentally.
Current policies allow for cops to detain and search someone when they have reason to believe a crime is occurring and when they think the suspect is armed. Former police officer and consultant in police abuse cases, Michael Tate says that officers are trained to also conduct searches when they believe a suspect is buying or selling drugs.
Proposed policy changes will amend the current practices to state strip searches, including placing their hands inside suspects’ clothing, are only to be done at the jail and in private.
Marlon Kautz of Copwatch, a grassroots law enforcement accountability organization, says the problem is department-wide and not just isolated to one or two troubled officers. “It’s an observable pattern throughout the department. That’s got to make one ask is this a deliberate strategy on the part of APD to humiliate people.”
Cops have to balance their own safety with the rights of suspects and while a search for weapons is rational if a suspect may be armed and if the cop is in potential danger, grasping their genitals, even though the clothing, is inappropriate and over the line.
The AJC reports that most such complaints arose from incidences in known drug areas or young men in traffic stops. One complaint, however, was searched outside of his restaurant, the Black Lion Café, after “shooing” away the homeless outside who were hassling his customers. Not only was he searched, but the police officer put a gloved hand down his pants well within the sight of the customers eating inside.
“I told them I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I told them I owned the café. I told them I was protecting my property,” said Abera Gebru.
According to one witness, Gebru’s customers within earshot were told to leave the scene or they too would be arrested. Gebru filed a formal complaint with the Atlanta Citizen Review Board. Drinking in public charges against him were dropped.
When you are the subject of an arrest, it’s normal to feel like your rights are being removed. In essence, some of them are. However, you are protected by the constitution, and while it may be in your best interest to follow the orders of the police, your criminal defense attorney can help ensure your rights were not violated.
Whether you are accused of a drug offense or a violent crime, you need the assistance of a legal advocate. Contact our offices today to discuss the details of your case and how we might be able to help.