It was 4:10 a.m. and Carolyn Pratt was in bed when two Atlanta police officers knocked on her door and announced they had a warrant for her arrest.
When they got inside, Pratt says the officers told her she was being charged with failing to appear at a Dec. 12 municipal court hearing. They put her in handcuffs and placed her in the back of a white van bound for the Atlanta Detention Center, her home for the next 30 hours.
An interior designer, Pratt lives with her two cats, Teal and Perry, and her 5-month-old Yorkshire terrier, Maggie May, in a sixth-floor, two-bedroom apartment on 13th Street across from Piedmont Park.
One month earlier, after hosting a dinner party for 10 friends, Pratt walked Maggie May about 30 feet into Piedmont Park when she was issued a ticket for being in the park after hours. It was 2 a.m. and the park closes at 11 p.m. The citation that Pratt received instructed her to appear at Atlanta Municipal Court in one week, at 6 a.m. There was only one problem: Municipal Court doesn't open until 8 a.m.
So, three days after receiving the citation, Pratt called the court. She says the court clerk called her back and told her there was no record of her citation in the computers.
"He told me that it probably hadn't been filed yet," Pratt says. "He said not to worry, that the officer probably would never file it and that I probably wouldn't have to go to court."
Pratt says she called the municipal court Dec. 13, just to make sure that there was no warrant out for her arrest. She says she was told that there was nothing under her name or Social Security number in the system. She thought she was going to get off easy. Little did she know.
Failure to appear is not a bondable offense and, even though she was brought to jail in the early morning hours of Jan. 3, her court time wasn't scheduled until Jan. 4 at 10 a.m. When she got to the city jail, the police took Pratt's mug shot and fingerprints and then took her upstairs to her cell. She was given bologna sandwiches and cookies to eat, but Pratt says she wasn't hungry.
While in jail, Pratt called a friend who's a corporate lawyer. The friend referred her to Tom West, a criminal defense lawyer best-known for death penalty cases. West represented Pratt at her hearing.
Judge Clinton Deveaux, who presided over Pratt's hearing, reduced her fine for "use of park after hours" from $138 to $100 in light of her time served. That fine was on top of the $900 fee she paid West to represent her.
Municipal Court operations manager Tina Lee says that if there is an incorrect date or time written on a ticket, the court will send a letter notifying the defendant.
But Pratt says she never received any letter notifying her of her court date and time. Nor, she says, was she alerted that there was a warrant out for her arrest. She feels like the whole incident could have been easily avoided.
"I honestly was not trying to shirk anything," she says.
West says that the city's rule against walking in Piedmont Park after 11 p.m. makes no sense.
"Clearly, when the City Council voted on that law, they had in their minds that they didn't want people in the park after 11 p.m. because they didn't want people engaged in criminal activity," West says. "She took the dog into the park to go pee pee."
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