Oct 13, 2022 - News

Comedians sue cops over racial profiling at Atlanta airport

Eric Andre

Comedian Eric André, right, speaks at a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Atlanta on Tuesday as his attorneys Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, left, and Richard Deane watch. 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's happening: 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 coerce passengers — most of whom are people of color — to consent to unconstitutional searches between fall 2020 and spring 2021.

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

According to the lawsuit:

  • English, an actor that lives in Atlanta, was walking on the jet bridge to board a flight to Los Angeles when two plainclothes officers emerged and asked if he was carrying any illegal drugs.
  • The officers, who also inspected English's ticket and ID, also asked why he was going to L.A., how long he would stay and conducted a search of his carry-on bag 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 flight, the lawsuit says.

What they're saying: English said during a press conference Tuesday that he felt "completely powerless" and felt that he had to comply if he "wanted everything to go smoothly."

  • André, who lives in L.A., says he experienced a similar run-in at the airport. He was the only person of color on the jet bridge when he was pulled aside by cops.
  • "The whole experience was traumatizing," he said. "I felt belittled, and I want to 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 spokesperson Julia Isaac told Axios the department doesn’t comment on litigation issues.

The intrigue: During the eight-month span when English and André were questioned, the plaintiffs say that out of the 378 stops where the passengers' race was documented, 56% were Black and 68% were people of color.

  • Citing data from the 2016 Status of Air Travel in the USA that points out 8% of airline passengers in the U.S. were Black, the lawsuit contends "the probability of this happening randomly is…significantly less than one in one hundred trillion."

The lawsuit also notes that, as a result of those stops, only 36 grams of illegal drugs were recovered and two passengers were charged with offenses. They also seized more than $1 million from 25 passengers through civil asset forfeitures.

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

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


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