Eric André, Clayton. English is suing the police over security stops at the airport

Erik Andre

Comedian Eric André, right, speaks at a press conference outside the federal courthouse in Atlanta on Tuesday as his attorneys Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, left, and Richard Deane look on. Photo: Kate Brumback/AP

Two comedians are suing the Clayton County Police Department, alleging they were racially profiled at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

What happens: the lawsuit filed Tuesday by Eric André and Clayton English, who are black, accuses Clayton County officers of using the department’s jet bridge interdiction program to force passengers — most of whom are people of color — to consent to unconstitutional searches between the fall of 2020 and the spring 2021.

  • The lawsuit names Clayton County Police Chief Kevin Roberts and five other officers as defendants.

According to the lawsuit:

  • English, an actor who lives in Atlanta, was walking on the jet bridge to board a flight to Los Angeles when two plainclothes officers appeared and asked if he was carrying illegal drugs.
  • The officers, who also inspected English’s ticket and ID, also asked why he was going to LA, how long he would be staying and conducted a search of his carry-on luggage, while other passengers “gawked” at the encounter.
  • After English asked what was going on, the officers returned his bag and allowed him to board the plane, the lawsuit states.

What they say: English said during a news conference Tuesday that he felt “completely powerless” and felt he had to comply if he “wanted everything to go smoothly.”

  • André, who lives in LA, says that he experienced a similar influx at the airport. He was the only person of color on the jet bridge when he was pulled aside by the police.
  • “The whole experience was traumatizing,” he said. “I felt slighted and I will use my resources and my platform to bring national attention to this incident so that it stops.”
  • Neither man was charged with a crime.

The other side: Clayton County police spokeswoman Julia Isaac told Axios that the department does not comment on litigation.

The intrigue: During the eight months that English and André were questioned, the plaintiffs say that of the 378 stops where the race of passengers was documented, 56% were black and 68% were colored.

  • Citing data from the 2016 State of Air Travel in the United States, which points out that 8% of air passengers in the United States were black, the lawsuit claims “the probability of this happening by chance is … significantly less than one in a hundred trillion.”

The lawsuit also notes that as a result of these stops only 36 grams of illegal drugs were found and two passengers were charged with offences. They also seized more than $1 million from 25 passengers through civil assets.

  • All but one passenger was allowed to board their flight.
  • “These seizures do not meaningfully combat drug trafficking, but they create a financial windfall for the department by taking advantage of the permissive civil asset forfeiture standards and the reluctance of individuals (particularly individuals of color) to challenge seizures,” the lawsuit reads. .

Note: Both men are represented by the Policing Project at NYU School of Law and the law firms Jones Day and Lawrence & Bundy.

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