On the night of December 30, 2017, dozens of young adults attended a birthday party at a home in Cartersville, Georgia. But a night of fun quickly changed when police arrived at the party, arresting more than 60 people after less than an ounce of marijuana was discovered inside the home.
The incident now in question occurred on December 31, 2017. That night, Cartersville, Georgia police officer Joshua Coker claimed he was responding to a call about gunfire.
While driving through a neighborhood, he allegedly smelled marijuana. He then pulled over and called for backup. From there, the officers carried out what those involved are claiming was an illegal, humiliating, and violating mass arrest.
According to reports published by The Appeal, the cops entered a home where a party was taking place, and that the cops claimed was the source of the marijuana smell. Importantly, they did not have a warrant or consent from the homeowner.
Once inside the home, the cops allegedly rounded up everyone at the party. There were more 60 guests there that night. And records show that at least 50 were black.
The officers zip-tied the wrists of everyone in the home and announced that everyone was under arrest. It took at least another two hours before a search warrant was signed.
As reported by many of the people arrested that night, cops did not allow them to use the bathroom while they were being detained in the home. Other guests say they were allowed to use the bathroom, but only with the door open.
Eventually, cops searched all 60-plus people but did not find any drugs. Despite this, the cops claimed that they found a small amount of weed in the house. They also said they found a couple of small plastic bags containing marijuana and cocaine outside. All charges were eventually dropped.
After being detained in the home, guests were eventually loaded into vans belonging to the Bartow County sheriff’s department. They were then taken to the county jail, where they allegedly sat in the garage for as long as an hour.
From there, everyone at the party was booked into jail. At the time, they were all charged with possession of less an ounce of marijuana. And things only got worse from there.
Guests report being held in tightly packed, freezing cold cells. Some said they were threatened with Tasers. And others said they were forced into “isolation cells” for multiple hours at a time. And other guests said they were denied medication for serious health conditions.
Now some of those arrested that night — part of a larger group of predominantly young people of color called the “Cartersville 70” — have filed a lawsuit against the city, several dozen members of the Cartersville Police Department, and members of the Bartow County-Cartersville Drug Task Force, arguing that they were unconstitutionally arrested and were subjected to mistreatment after police detained them.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed by seven of the 65 people arrested that night, party attendees were unlawfully arrested and many of them underwent invasive strip searches after being transported to a local jail. Some say they were denied medical services while being detained for days. The group also argues that booking photos were illegally shared on county websites, creating a “domino effect” that cost several of the party attendees their jobs.
Of the dozens detained, 50 were black, and the majority of those arrested were in their late teens and early 20s. Charges against 64 of the 65 people arrested were dropped early in 2018 after local district attorney determined that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges. The remaining drug possession charges against one person were dropped after a judge ruled that police illegally entered the party that night. The case quickly spread on social media last year, with one legal analyst calling the mass arrest “an incredible waste of resources.”
More than a year later, the plaintiffs argue that the events of that night have continued to affect them. “Each of our clients has had their life turned into a nightmare in a lot of ways,” Gerry Weber, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told the Appeal, a criminal justice news outlet. “They’ve got this scar on their records that will never disappear.”
On January 12, 2018, the district attorney dropped the charges against all but one member of the group.
But the lawsuit argues that those arrested still faced difficulties afterward. One plaintiff, Keylon Woodard, says that his enlistment in the military was delayed because of his arrest. Another plaintiff, Eutychus Wilson, says that his hands were zip-tied and that he was later strip-searched, despite not having any drugs in his possession. Wilson was a high school senior at the time of the arrest and says that he was no longer allowed to practice with his school’s basketball team after the incident, ending his hopes of going to college on a basketball scholarship.
A third plaintiff, a 22-year-old single mother named Nija Guider, told the Appeal that she lost her job after the arrest. It took her two and a half months to find a new job; in the interim, she says she had to go to food pantries to feed her 1-year-old son.
“Everybody was treated inhumanely and talked to like they should expect this,” Atteeyah Hollie, a senior staff attorney at Southern Center for Human Rights, a group representing the plaintiffs, told the Appeal.
Local officials have not commented publicly on the lawsuit, citing the pending litigation. As the case moves forward, the plaintiffs say that they hope their case will prevent an incident like this from happening again, adding that their ordeal calls attention to the particular ways people of color are criminalized for possessing or being around marijuana.
“It’s a different type of hurt when you get arrested for something you didn’t do,” Guider told the Appeal. “On top of that [you’re taking] losses because of something you didn’t do.”
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