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Settlement Reached in Civil Rights Lawsuit Challenging the Mass Arrest of 60+ Partygoers for Less Than an Ounce of Marijuana


Here is the press release from the Southern Center For Human Rights

Today, we are pleased to announce that a settlement has been reached in Williams v. City of Cartersvillea civil rights lawsuit filed by SCHR and The Merchant Law Firm, PC, after 64 youths were stopped for being present at Party on December 30, 2017, where less than one ounce of marijuana was found. The lawsuit was filed against dozens of employees of the Cartersville Police Department, the Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force and the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office. Under the settlement, the defendants agreed to pay $900,000.

In the early hours of New Year’s Eve 2017, police officers in Cartersville, Georgia were dispatched to an apartment complex near a private residence after reports of gunshots (of which they found no evidence) . As they approached the residence (and despite having their car windows rolled up), officers claimed to have smelled marijuana. Under a city policy that permits warrantless entry based simply on alleged smells of marijuana, officers entered the private residence without consent, a warrant or probable cause.

Once inside the home, officers found dozens of predominantly black and brown youths attending a birthday party. They also found less than an ounce of marijuana. Officers immediately detained everyone present at the party. Hours later, the Bartow County Drug Task Force arrived and ultimately arrested 64 partygoers — all but nine people of color — without investigating whether they were involved in any way in the small amount of marijuana discovered.

Upon arrival at Bartow County Jail, the youths were strip searched in front of multiple officers and placed in crowded holding tanks, where they remained for 1-3 days without access to phones, courts or an attorney. . Some have been placed in solitary confinement after complaining about their treatment. Some prison staff placed signs on the windows of the detention cells reading “THE PARTY CREW”.

The solitary cells were so cold that some people wrapped parts of their bodies in toilet paper or ran in place to stay warm. A person who had convulsions informed a prison nurse of his condition, but did not receive his anti-epileptic drugs until the third day of his detention. A pregnant woman was refused prenatal pills and received no treatment when she repeatedly vomited into a holding cell bin. A diabetic received an incorrect dose of insulin which made his condition worse.

Twelve days after the mass arrest, the Bartow County prosecutor dismissed all charges. The arrests and incarceration – and the publicity that followed – were traumatic and very disruptive to their lives. The young people’s booking photos remained online until the complaint was filed. Several people have lost jobs, scholarships and other opportunities. Even a very short stay in prison can be very disruptive and traumatic, with widespread and lasting impacts.

“Even though the charges were dropped years ago, it still affects me mentally and emotionally,” said Andrea Lopez, one of the named plaintiffs. “I never imagined myself going through this. It made me more aware of the biases in the justice system, more aware of what happens to people every day.

Because Cartersville has not repealed its policy allowing raids on homes based on a possible single puff of marijuana, residents remain at risk. SCHR is calling on the City of Cartersville to reverse this destructive and unnecessary policy.

“No matter what I do with my career path, it’s going to happen. I don’t think that will ever change,” Ms Lopez said. “I should feel confident, but this situation still haunts me. It still affects me and others today with great opportunities in our lives, not just in terms of employment…I’m grateful for the amount we were able to get but I would give it back in a heartbeat I wish I could take the time and prevent this whole situation from happening.



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