Comedian files lawsuit over Atlanta airport drug investigation program


ATLANTA (AP) — Comedians Eric Andre and Clayton English are challenging the Atlanta airport police program. They allege that they violate the constitutional rights of air passengers, especially black passengers, through racial profiling and forced searches while they are trying to board an airplane.

Lawyers for the two men filed a lawsuit in federal court in Atlanta on Tuesday, claiming they were racially profiled and illegally stopped by Clayton County police at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

When the two famous comedians and actors stopped at different stops about six months apart, the police picked them out because they were black and accused them of drugs while other passengers watched. He said he was severely criticized.

In an interview, Andre said, “People were staring at me and looking suspicious even though I hadn’t done anything wrong” and made the experience “dehumanizing and demoralizing”. said.

The purpose of the program is to combat drug trafficking, but in lawsuits, drugs are rarely found, criminal charges are rarely filed, and the cash seized provides windfall financial gains for police departments. said.

Related Video: Comedian Eric Andre Says He Was Racist Profiling At Atlanta Airport

According to the lawsuit, Clayton County police officers and county district attorney’s office investigators selectively stopped passengers on the narrow jet bridge used to access the plane. They receive letters, interrogate them before boarding flights, and sometimes search their bags, lawyers said in the lawsuit.

The police department called Stop a “consensual encounter” and said it was “coincidental,” but in reality Stop “relied on coercion, with targets being disproportionately chosen based on race.” There are,” argued the lawyer.

Clayton County Police spokesperson Julia Isaac said she would not comment on the pending lawsuit.

According to police records, there were 402 jet bridge stops from August 30, 2020 to April 30, 2021, and passenger races were listed at 378 of those stops. Of his 378 passengers, he had 211, or 56 percent, black, and had a total of 258 stops, or 68 percent, made by people of color, the lawsuit says.

Three drug seizures were reported from these 402 stops. About 10 grams of drugs from one passenger, 26 grams of “suspected THC gummies” from another passenger, and six prescription drugs from a third passenger without a prescription, the lawsuit says. said. Only the 1st and 3rd person were charged.

These 402 stops also earned more than $1 million in cash and money orders from a total of 25 passengers. All but one were allowed to continue traveling and only two were charged – one with drugs – the lawsuit said. , Clayton County Police have settled their respective cases and returned much of the seized money, the lawsuit says.

People of color are less likely to have bank accounts and more likely to carry large amounts of cash when traveling, lawyers argue in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, on October 30, 2020, English was stopped while en route from Atlanta, where he lives, to Los Angeles for work. Andre finished filming for his HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones” and was en route from Charleston, South Carolina to his home in Los Angeles on April 21, 2020, stopping after a layover in Atlanta.

Officials stopped them from entering the jet bridge and asked if they were carrying illegal drugs, the lawsuit states. Both were asked to hand over boarding passes and identification. The officer said he wanted to search English’s bag, but English agreed, not believing he had a choice.

“I felt completely helpless. I felt violated. I felt cornered,” English said at a press conference outside federal court in Atlanta. I felt obliged to obey.

Andre complained about his suspension Right after it happened. Clayton County Police said at the time it was “consensual.”

“Mr. Andre chose to speak to investigators on their first encounter,” the agency said. Statement posted on Facebook“During the encounter, Mr. Andre voluntarily provided investigators with information regarding his travel plans. Mr. Andre also voluntarily agreed to search the luggage, but investigators chose not to do so. .”

André said he felt a “moral imperative” to file the lawsuit.

“I have the resources to bring this case to national and international attention. It is not an isolated case,” he said.

One of the lawyers who filed the lawsuit, Barry Friedman, co-founder of the NYU School of Law Policing Project, recommended contacting anyone who has had a similar experience.

The lawsuit includes Clayton County and the Chief of Police, four police officers and an investigator from the District Attorney’s Office. It alleges violations of constitutional rights to protect against unlawful search and seizure and racial discrimination.

The comedian calls for a jury trial and for the Clayton County Police Department’s jet bridge ban program to be declared unconstitutional. They are also seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as legal costs.