Comedians claim Atlanta airport’s drug testing program of discrimination against racial groups in a federal lawsuit

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ATLANTA Comedy stars Eric Andre and Clayton English are suing a police program that they say is a violation of the Atlanta airport, which they claim violates the rights of constitutionally protected passengers traveling on airline flights, and especially Black passengers, by the use of racial profiling as well as forced searches right before they take off on their flights.

The lawyers for the two men filed a lawsuit on Tuesday before a federal judge in Atlanta asserting that they were targeted racially and unlawfully detained in the presence of Clayton County police at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The two men, both well famous actors and comedians claim that officers picked them out in separate stops, roughly six months apart, mainly because they were Black and then questioned them on drugs while passengers were watching.

“People were gawking at me and I looked suspicious when I had done nothing wrong,” Andre stated in an interview, describing the incident “dehumanizing and demoralizing.”

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Although the primary goal that the initiative is designed to combat drug trafficking, according to the lawsuit that, in reality, drugs are seldom discovered, and criminal charges rarely occur, and cash seized is a cash windfall to the department.

Clayton County police investigators and officers of the district attorney’s office routinely interrogate passengers on the narrow jet bridges that are used for accessing planes, according to the lawsuit. The officers search for travelers’ tickets to board as well as IDs and question them, occasionally looking through their bags, prior to when they board their planes as per the lawyers’ claims in the suit.

The police department refers to those arrests “consensual encounters” and says they are “random,” but in actual fact, these stops “rely on coercion, and targets are selected disproportionately based on their race,” lawyers say.

Clayton County the police chief Julia Isaac said the department isn’t able to comment on litigation that is pending.

Police records indicate that between Aug. 30th, 2020 until April 30th 2021 there were 402 jet bridges that were stopped and the race of the passengers was mentioned at 378 of those stops. From those 378 passengers 211 (56%) were Black and those of color made up 258 total stops which is 68%, the lawsuit claims.

These 402 stops resulted in three drug seizures reported that included about 10 grams of marijuana from one driver as well as 26 grams worth of “suspected THC gummies” from another and six prescription drugs without prescription from the third, the lawsuit claims. Only the third and first person were arrested.

These 402 stops also generated greater than $1million worth of dollars and cash orders for a total of 25 travelers. Only one was permitted to continue their journeys while only two of them – those who used drugs – were arrested in the lawsuit. The lawsuit says that eight of the 25 contest the seizures in addition, Clayton County police settled each case, restitution of a significant portion of the cash confiscated according to the lawsuit.

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The fact that you can carry large sums of cash doesn’t necessarily mean one is engaged in illicit drug or other illegal activity, lawyers claim in the lawsuit and note that those who are of color are less likely to hold bank accounts , and are less susceptible to carrying huge amounts of cash when they travel.

English was stopped on his way from Atlanta which is where he lives in the United States, and flew to Los Angeles for work on October. 30 2020, according to the lawsuit. Andre was completing a film on the HBO series “The Righteous Gemstones” and was on his way to Charleston, South Carolina, to his home in Los Angeles on April 21 20th, 2020, when he was stopped during an overnight stop in Atlanta.

The officers blocked them when they entered the bridge and inquired whether they had illegal substances, the lawsuit states. Both were required to surrender their boarding passes as well as identification. A police officer stated that he was planning to look through the bag of English, and English accepted, but not believing the officer had a choice.

“I felt powerless and in complete powerlessness. I felt violated. I felt like I was being snatched away,” English said at an event outside of the Federal Courthouse located at Atlanta. “I felt as if I was obliged to do so in order for everything to run smoothly.”

Andre protested about his stop shortly after the incident. Clayton County police said at the time that the incident had been “consensual.”

“Mr. Andre was able to meet with investigators at the time of the initial meeting,” the department said in a post on Facebook. “During the conversation Andre. Andre voluntarily provided the investigators with information regarding the travel arrangements he had made. Andre. Andre also voluntarily consented to the examination of his luggage, however the police chose not to consent.”

Andre stated that there was the “moral calling” to bring the suit “so these practices can stop and these cops can be held accountable for this because it’s unethical.”

“I have the means to draw national as well as international recognition to the issue. This isn’t an isolated event,” he said. “If Black people don’t speak about their differences Who will?”

The lawyer that filed the lawsuit NYU School of Law Policing Project co-founder Barry Friedman, encouraged anyone who’s experienced similar issues to contact him.

The lawsuit includes Clayton County and the police chief, along with four officers from the police department and an investigator from the office of the district attorney. The lawsuit alleges that there were violations of constitutional rights to protect against unlawful searches and seizures, as well as against discrimination based on race.

The comedians want an open jury trial and request for their Clayton County police jet bridge interdiction program be declared illegal. They also request damages for punitive and compensation and legal fees.

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