Felicia Anderson took the City of Atlanta to court for violating her constitutional rights when she was arrested in 2009 while photographing police activity, and besides damages, a consent order was agreed upon.
As the city and its police department failed to comply with the court’s order, federal judge Steve C. Jones found the two in contempt of court. Additionally, he imposed sanctions should they continue to fail to comply with the 2012 decision.
Among the requirements are that all APD officers undergo in-person training on the matter and make it a firing offense to interfere with a citizen’s right to record police.
The City of Atlanta will be fined $20,000 per day, should it fail to implement the previous and current court order within the given timeframe.
As part of the 2012 settlement, permanent revisions were to be made to APD’s policies and trainings and new ones were to be implemented in order to ensure that officers refrain from interfering with citizens legally recording policy activity.
Despite the settlement, APD officers had confiscated the cameras of several photographers covering the Ferguson demonstrations in November 2014, prevented them from taking photos of police and arrested at least two photojournalists.
Obviously these actions were not only in violation of the photographers’ rights, but also the 2012 court order.
On April 28, 2015 the Southern Center for Human Rights and attorneys Daniel J. Grossman and Albert Wan presented their successful case for civil contempt sanctions against the City of Atlanta.
“The Court finds Defendant in contempt for violating the March 2012 Order… and it now imposes sanctions to bring Defendant into full compliance and to address future monitoring of Defendant’s compliance with the Order”, said the Judge, who also ordered the following:
- Permanently implement the revisions to the Atlanta Police Department Standard Operating Procedures set forth in Exhibit A to the Court’s March 2012 Order.
- Conduct mandatory, in-person training of all Atlanta police officers every two years regarding the Standard Operating Procedure revisions set forth in Exhibit A to the Court’s March 2012 Order
- Within 45 days of the entry of this Order, the City of Atlanta shall require the Chief of the Atlanta Police Department to issue a Command Memorandum to each sworn employee of the Atlanta Police Department attaching a copy of the March 2012 Order and requiring each sworn employee to read the March 2012 Order and sign a statement verifying that he or she has received and read the March 2012 Order. The City of Atlanta shall provide the Court and the Plaintiff with a sworn statement attesting that this has been accomplished within ten days after the45-day period of compliance has expired. The City of Atlanta shall be fined $10,000 per day after the 45-dayperiod of compliance has expired if the City of Atlanta fails to comply with this paragraph.
- Within 45 days of the entry of this Order, the City of Atlanta shall provide in-person, roll call training consistent with the industry standard to every police officer of the Atlanta Police Department on every revision to the Atlanta Police Department Standard Operating Procedures required under the March 2012 Order. The City of Atlanta shall require the Atlanta Police Department to video solely this portion of the Atlanta Police Department’s in-person, roll call training. The City of Atlanta shall provide Plaintiff’s counsel with a copy of each video complying with this paragraph within ten days of the in-person, roll call training. The City of Atlanta shall provide the Court and the Plaintiff with a sworn statement attesting that this has been accomplished within ten days after the 45-day period of compliance has expired. The City of Atlanta shall be fined $10,000 per day after the 45-day period of compliance has expired if the City of Atlanta fails to comply with this paragraph.
- The City of Atlanta shall, within five days, report to the Court and Plaintiff any revision it makes to (a) the Standard Operating Procedures that are the subject of the Court’s March 2012 Order and (b) any Standard Operating Procedure of the Atlanta Police Department concerning the subjects of the Court’s March 2012 Order.
“Almost every week we see the crucial importance of citizen video as a tool for police accountability,” said attoerny Daniel J. Grossman. “It is a shame that City Hall fought against this for almost six months, and that it took a federal judge to hold the city in contempt and order it to provide the training that even Atlanta’s police officers themselves were asking for”.
Attorney Albert Wan sounded skeptical of the City’s desire to comply:
“The Court has now found the City in contempt based, in part, on the City’s own admissions that it failed to comply with the Court’s Order. The next few weeks and months will be telling. Will the City treat the Court’s order with the seriousness it deserves, or will it revert back to its old ways? All eyes are on the City to see what it will do, and they should be. As recent events have shown, the public’s right to document police conduct is an important one, and the City needs to recognize that. It can start by fully complying with the Court’s Order.”
The Southern Center for Human Rights attorney, Gerald Weber added that “it should not have taken over three years for the Atlanta Police Department to respect citizens’ rights to video police conduct as required by Judge Jones order. The Court has shown, and the national conscience has shown, that cameras are an important tool in ensuring police are held accountable”.
Hopefully the ruling and sanctions will lead to APD complying with the court order, and the law, and will have a trickle-down effect to other law enforcement agencies around the country.