A federal lawsuit has been filed against Georgia law enforcement officers responsible for the mass arrest of more than 60 party-goers for a single bag of weed. The legal action, entered on behalf of seven named individuals and a “class of similarly situated persons,” alleges that deputies with the Cartersville, Georgia police department and the Bartow County Sheriff’s Department violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights when they entered a private home without a search warrant and arrested more than 60 people enjoying a party.
“Without any reasonable or particularized suspicion to believe that any individual visitor, let alone every person at the party, possessed, had knowledge of, or exercised control over the suspected marijuana located in the private home, Cartersville police officers announced that no one was free to leave and detained and seized everyone at the party,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed with support from the Southern Center for Human Rights.
On New Year’s Eve, 2017, according to court documents and media reports, Cartersville police officers responding to a call of shots fired entered a private home where the party was being held. Once inside, police found an unattended bag containing less than one ounce of marijuana and announced that everyone was under arrest for possession of marijuana when no one claimed ownership of the pot. More officers and deputies from the sheriff’s department and the Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force were called to assist. The house was cleared and everyone was detained for two hours while a search warrant was obtained. During that time, the party guests were detained outside the home in freezing temperatures without access to bathroom facilities. Eventually, all of the party attendees, their hands secured with zip ties, were searched and transported to jail in sheriff’s department vans.
Cops Claim Warrant Unnecessary
The first officer to arrive at the scene, Joshua Coker, said that under department policy, the law enforcement officers did not need a warrant because they could smell marijuana outside the home.
“I had exigent circumstances to go inside and clear the residence … and make sure of no destruction of evidence prior to the Drug Task Force arriving,” said Coker, who claimed he could already smell marijuana while still inside his police cruiser with the windows up.
The lawsuit also alleges that the plaintiffs were strip-searched and mistreated by deputies while being held at the jail, some for up to three days until charges were dropped by the district attorney. The plaintiffs maintain that they were held in crowded, unheated cells, and denied required medical treatment, medications, and the use of restroom facilities.
“One person who experiences seizures informed a jail nurse of her condition but did not receive her anti-seizure medication until the third day of her detention,” the complaint reads. “A pregnant woman was denied prenatal pills and received no care when she vomited repeatedly in a holding cell garbage can.”
Those who complained about the treatment the group was subjected to by deputies at the jail were threatened with a Taser or held in isolation cells. The sheriff’s department also posted to its website mug shots of those who had been arrested, which were then published on the television news and social media, causing some to lose jobs or suffer other repercussions.
Sun Choy, an attorney representing the City of Cartersville, said that he was “comfortable in saying that we believe that any plaintiff will have to overcome some significant legal hurdles if he/she pursues a claim.”
Gerry Weber, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said that his clients are still experiencing fallout from the action by police.
“Each of our clients has had their life turned into a nightmare in a lot of ways,” said Weber. “They’ve got this scar on their records that will never disappear.”