Atlanta Police Department Grabs More Cameras of Citizen-Monitors, and Earns Another Lawsuit

6th October, 2011
Southern Center for Human Rights

ATLANTA– Today, the Southern Center for Human Rights, along with Atlanta based attorneys Daniel J. Grossman and Albert Wan filed Anderson v. City of Atlanta, et al. a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Atlanta and an officer with the Atlanta Police Department (APD) on behalf of Felicia Anderson whose Constitutional Rights were violated when she was arrested as she peaceably monitored and photographed police activity.  The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Felecia Anderson is a 24 year old woman who lived in the West End at the time of the incident.  On October 14, 2009, Ms. Anderson observed APD’s now-disbanded RED DOG unit, raiding her neighbor’s house. Ms. Anderson and others came out of their homes in response to the police activity, and noticed police officers repeatedly kicking and dragging a man while he was laying handcuffed on the ground. Ms. Anderson went home to retrieve her camera and returned moments later to film the incident as she stood on public sidewalk across the street from where the man was being beaten.  Right away, several officers began to shout at Ms. Anderson and demand that she stop recording. She stopped filming the officers and walked back to her house. One of the officers charged up behind her and demanded that she give him her camera. Taken aback by the behavior of the police officer, Ms. Anderson dropped her camera and the officer seized it. She was ordered to step off of the sidewalk into the middle of the street and produce her identification.

When Ms. Anderson asked for the officer to return her camera, the officer refused and proceeded to delete all close-up photos. Without any provocation, the officer handcuffed and arrested Ms. Anderson , citing her with: 1. No driver’s license, 2. Pedestrian walking in roadway and 3. Disorderly conduct. The lawsuit filed on behalf of Ms. Anderson states, “The stop, search and seizure of the plaintiff and her property was without probable cause or reasonable suspicion of any criminal activity and was for the sole and exclusive purpose of chilling speech and taking the information gathered by police activity.”

“Documenting police activity in a public space is not a crime.  In fact, it's a constitutional right and a well-established one at that.” said attorney Albert Wan.  “Because Ms. Anderson is not the first and certainly won't be the last person to be arrested for exercising her constitutional rights in this manner, the police need to be held accountable for their unlawful conduct.  The residents of Atlanta as well as Ms. Anderson deserve no less.”

The City has refused to settle this case.  Instead, Ms. Anderson has been subject to ongoing prosecution and is currently being “bound over” from Atlanta Municipal Court to Fulton County State Court.  Her last court date was in December 2009 and she has not received any notice since that time.

This is not the first time APD’s unconstitutional conduct has resulted in legal action.    In February 2011, APD settled with Copwatch of East Atlanta for $40,000 and agreed to adopt a policy that prohibits officers from interfering with and arresting individuals who are monitoring police activity.  The officer’s conduct in this case would have clearly violated such a policy.  In fact, according to the lawsuit filed on Ms. Anderson’s behalf, at the time Ms. Anderson was arrested, APD had an official and unconstitutional policy that encouraged police seizure of cameras of citizens monitoring police activity and that top officials within the department approved such conduct.

“If the City is truly interested in transparency and accountability; they should compensate Ms. Anderson and fully investigate the officers responsible for violating her constitutional rights,” said Southern Center for Human Rights attorney, Gerald Weber.

To read the Complaint, click here.

For additional information, contact Kathryn Hamoudah at 404/688-1202 or [email protected]