Comedians Eric André and Clayton English sue over drug search program at Atlanta airport: “Dehumanizing and demoralizing”

Comedians Eric André and Clayton English are difficult a police program on the Atlanta airport they are saying violates the constitutional rights of airline passengers, notably Black passengers, by means of racial profiling and coercive searches simply as they’re about to board their flights.

Legal professionals for the 2 males filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal courtroom in Atlanta alleging that they had been racially profiled and illegally stopped by Clayton County police at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Worldwide Airport.

The 2 males, well-known comedians and actors, say officers singled them out throughout separate stops roughly six months aside as a result of they’re Black and grilled them about medicine as different passengers watched.

“Individuals had been gawking at me and I seemed suspicious after I had carried out nothing improper,” André mentioned in an interview, calling the expertise “dehumanizing and demoralizing.”

Whereas the acknowledged goal of this system is to battle drug trafficking, the lawsuit says, medicine are not often discovered, legal fees seldom end result, and seized money offers a monetary windfall for the police division.

Clayton County cops and investigators from the county district lawyer’s workplace selectively cease passengers within the slim jet bridges used to entry planes, the lawsuit says. The officers take the passengers’ boarding passes and identification and interrogate them, typically looking out their luggage, earlier than they board their flights, the attorneys say within the lawsuit.

The police division calls the stops “consensual encounters” and says they’re “random” — however the attorneys argue that, in actuality, the stops “depend on coercion, and targets are chosen disproportionately primarily based on their race.” 

Clayton County police spokesperson Julia Isaac mentioned the division does not touch upon pending litigation.

Atlanta Airport Searches Lawsuit
Comic Eric André, proper, speaks at a information convention outdoors the federal courthouse in Atlanta on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, as his attorneys Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, left, and Richard Deane watch.

Kate Brumback / AP

Police data present that from Aug. 30, 2020, to April 30, 2021, there have been 402 jet bridge stops, and the passenger’s race was listed for 378 of these stops. Of these 378 passengers, 211, or 56%, had been Black, and folks of shade accounted for 258 whole stops, or 68%, the lawsuit says.

These 402 stops resulted in three reported drug seizures: about 10 grams of medicine from one passenger, 26 grams of “suspected THC gummies” from one other, and 6 prescription tablets with no prescription from a 3rd, the lawsuit says. Solely the primary and third particular person had been charged.

These 402 stops additionally yielded greater than $1 million in money and cash orders from a complete of 25 passengers. All however one had been allowed to proceed their travels, and solely two — those who additionally had medicine — had been charged, the lawsuit says. Eight of the 25 challenged the seizures, and Clayton County police settled every case, returning a lot of the seized cash, the lawsuit says.

Carrying massive portions of money does not imply somebody is concerned in unlawful drug exercise, the attorneys argue within the lawsuit, noting that folks of shade are much less more likely to have financial institution accounts and usually tend to carry massive sums once they journey.

English was stopped whereas flying from Atlanta, the place he lives, to Los Angeles for work on Oct. 30, 2020, the lawsuit says. André had completed a shoot for HBO’s “The Righteous Gems” and was touring from Charleston, South Carolina, to his residence in Los Angeles on April 21, 2020, when he was stopped after a layover in Atlanta.

Officers blocked them as they entered the jet bridge and requested in the event that they had been carrying unlawful medicine, the lawsuit says. Each had been requested handy over their boarding passes and identification. An officer mentioned he needed to look English’s bag, and English agreed, not believing he had a selection.

“I felt utterly powerless. I felt violated. I felt cornered,” English mentioned at a information convention outdoors the federal courthouse in Atlanta. “I felt like I needed to comply if I needed every part to go easily.”

Atlanta Airport Searches Lawsuit
Comedians Clayton English, heart, and Eric André, proper, communicate with their lawyer, Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, outdoors the federal courthouse in Atlanta on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.

Kate Brumback / AP

André complained about his cease proper after it occurred. Clayton County police mentioned on the time that it was “consensual.”

“Mr. Andre selected to talk with investigators through the preliminary encounter,” the division mentioned in a statement posted on Facebook. “Throughout the encounter, Mr. Andre voluntarily supplied the investigators data as to his journey plans. Mr. Andre additionally voluntarily consented to a search of his baggage however the investigators selected not to take action.”

André mentioned he felt a “ethical calling” to convey the lawsuit “so these practices can cease and these cops might be held accountable for this as a result of it is unethical.”

“I’ve the assets to convey nationwide consideration and worldwide consideration to this incident. It isn’t an remoted incident,” he mentioned. “If Black folks do not communicate up for one another, who will?”

One of many attorneys who filed the lawsuit, NYU Faculty of Legislation Policing Undertaking co-founder Barry Friedman, inspired anybody else who has had comparable experiences to get in contact.

The lawsuit names Clayton County and the police chief, in addition to 4 cops and a district lawyer’s workplace investigator. It alleges violations of the constitutional rights that defend in opposition to unreasonable searches and seizures and in opposition to racial discrimination.

The comedians search a jury trial and ask that the Clayton County police jet bridge interdiction program be declared unconstitutional. In addition they search compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to authorized prices.

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