The Atlanta Police Department has proven time and again recently that it isn't exactly clear on citizens' constitutional rights — and it's cost the city dearly.
And according to a settlement reached yesterday, another constitutional gaffe last April will cost the city $40 grand more.
Attorneys Dan Grossman and Gerry Weber — both of whom represented the Eagle raid plaintiffs — settled with the city yesterday in the case of Marlon Kautz, a member of the grassroots police watchdog group Cop Watch of East Atlanta. Kautz was hassled by a cop for attempting to make a camera phone recording as the APD made an arrest.
In a conversation with CL earlier today, Kautz said that in April 2010, he was in Little Five Points helping the local chapter of Food Not Bombs distribute meals to the homeless (he wasn't actively patrolling for Cop Watch) and noticed what appeared to be a drug bust going on outside an area business. He didn't have his regular recording equipment in tow, so he got out his cell phone to document the bust that way. As an officer brought someone out of the storefront in cuffs, he noticed Kautz recording him and demanded he stop.
"I knew my rights," says Kautz, "so I continued recording."
Officer Anthony Kirkman approached and attempted to grab Kautz's phone out of his hand. When he refused to let go of the phone, Kautz says Kirkman and another officer pulled him over to a police car, twisted his arm behind his back, and essentially "wrestled" the phone out of his hand. When he finally got his phone back after it was turned into the property department as evidence, it had been tampered with, and the video was no longer watchable.
Says Kautz of the officers' actions, "To this day I don’t know what they were thinking. The way they were behaving you would have thought I had a knife."
Kautz and Cop Watch of East Atlanta — which Kautz says started a couple of years ago in response to a "general climate of police misconduct" — will receive $40,000 in damages, and the APD has to make Standard Operating Procedure changes and retrain officers to make sure they understand that it's within citizens' rights to document police activity.
Grossman says the SOP changes actually aren't any different than those the department has already been obligated to make pursuant to the Eagle court order, but this settlement forces them to make the changes sooner. The Eagle court order provided 180 days for the changes to be made — this more recent settlement provides for just 30 days.
Asked what his feelings are about the settlement, Kautz said, "Well, I mean I feel that it’s a victory, but honestly I think it’s pretty outrageous that we had to threaten a lawsuit. We’ve always had the right to record them, it’s constitutionally protected, so the police have been actively breaking the law by trying to prevent us from doing something we have every right to do."
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