Experience or Witness Misconduct by Atlanta Police? Share it With Us!
During recent protests, many people have had their rights violated by the Atlanta Police Department, from unlawful arrests to the use of chemical agents and rubber bullets to disperse crowds and enforce the curfew. We are seeking any and all video footage of APD misconduct. We also want to know of any and all instances of Atlanta Police Department misconduct, even if you don’t have video footage. If you or anyone you know has video footage, please submit it via this form. Please share this with anyone you know who may have footage they would be willing to share.
“Law enforcement stepped way over the line with protesters, but unless we have lots of video showing it, and lots of citizen complaints, the battle will be very much uphill.” -SCHR attorney Gerry Weber
Over the last few months, Atlanta’s protests against police brutality have been met with even more brutality, including excessive use of force, illegal arrest, and illegal crowd control techniques. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appointed a Use of Force Advisory Council to address “issues of police violence, systemic racism, and the need for the transformation of our justice system.” But, ultimately, it will be up to Atlantans to hold the APD accountable. In order to do that — it is a tall order — it’s critically important that citizens file complaints and record footage of APD’s misconduct.
There are varying levels of accountability for law enforcement. Individually, officers can be disciplined, retrained, fired, sued for damages, or even criminally prosecuted. Achieving any semblance of accountability is a tall order, however, because the system is stacked against the complainant.
In civil suits, an officer’s primary defense is qualified immunity. An officer cannot be held liable for damages, even if they violated the constitution, unless the violation was so clear that the law was “black and white.” Anything “gray,” and qualified immunity applies. Even officers who are found liable usually have their settlement paid by the government entity that employs them.
Criminal prosecutions of law enforcement officers are rare, because of prosecutor bias, jury bias and politics. They almost never happen unless there is video, crystal clear evidence, and the political stars align. All this said: accountability is sometimes achieved, and complaints against officers are public records. The more complaints, the more likely it is that an officer will be held accountable.
When it comes to challenging the culture of entire police departments, complaints are even more critical. Media and elected officials care more when an entire department is accused of acting illegally than when one “bad apple” is caught behaving badly. Departments won’t change unless there are lots of complaints. The Department of Justice won’t get involved unless there are lots of complaints. And government defendants – cities and counties – generally don’t lose in civil suits, again, unless there are lots of complaints.
Officer discipline normally happens through internal affairs, or the Office of Professional Standards, for larger departments. However, these bodies – literally police policing themselves – are weighed down by slim budgets, internal bias toward officers, and limited investigation abilities. Even if those internal bodies recommend discipline, the Chief of Police can decline to carry it out. Even if the Chief decides to carry out discipline, an officer can appeal a complaint through an administrative process.
Citizen Review Boards are rare, but slightly more independent. They allow for a recommendation for discipline by a group appointed by the City. Atlanta’s Citizen Review Board (ACRB) was created in response to the 2006 killing of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston by APD officers, to provide independent investigations and to improve relations between officers and the people they serve. But in a written response to this year’s protests, which they called a “reaction to non-action,” the Board admitted that “unfortunately, there is still much work to be done.”
“Rubber bullets and tear gas should never be used on people– especially not for exercising their first amendment rights. Protesters should not be arrested and tossed in jail,” says Weber. “But now that all that has happened, there is only way to stop it in the future – by documenting, pushing our public officials to make new policies that respect the constitution, and suing if we have to.”The-Art-of-City-Structure-1