Atlanta faces federal police brutality lawsuit over response to 2020 protests

A 37-year-old Conyers man is suing the city of Atlanta and several police officers in federal court because they allegedly violated his civil rights during protests against police brutality in 2020.

In the 30-page complaint filed last month, Sean George alleges he was leaving a protest in downtown Atlanta back then when six Atlanta police officers arrested him. The lawsuit alleges the officers struck him with a kick and a Taser gun after handcuffing him.

The lawsuit names the city and former police chief Erika Shields as defendants and two officers referred to as “John Doe.” The complaint also names Officers “J. Horne, Deegan, Flores, Moore,” and alleges the city is concealing their identities by failing to name them all in the records from police and prosecutors.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

In mid-2020, hundreds of protestors filled Atlanta’s streets amid national unrest over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. On May 29, 2020, downtown Atlanta and Buckhead endured acts of vandalism and looting during the demonstrations, spurring then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to implement a 9 p.m. curfew on May 30.

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George was leaving a protest near Centennial Park at 8:30 p.m. on May 30 when six officers approached him and handcuffed him, the lawsuit alleges. One officer allegedly kicked George’s leg, causing him to fall, and another officer tasered him. The lawsuit alleges the officers laughed at him before one of them stomped on his glasses, adding that another officer threw away George’s mask before they confiscated his backpack, keys and cell phone.

During George’s arrest, the officers transferred him between different makeshift locations before he was sent to the city detention center, where he was denied food, water, and restroom use during his 12 hours behind bars, the lawsuit alleges. The police allegedly gave him expired food shortly before his release from jail on May 31.

Four months passed after George’s arrest before he received the police reports, the lawsuit alleges. In documents attached to the complaint, a statement allegedly written by officer Horne describes how officer Flores warned George about the curfew because it was after midnight. The officers reportedly arrested him because he refused to leave, but the lawsuit alleges the report is fabricated.

George’s attorney also filed the complaint with a copy of a municipal court document dated March 16, 2021, that describes how the city dismissed their cases against George for “evidentiary reasons.”

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But the lawsuit alleges that in addition to suffering from injuries to his arm and hands for months after his arrest, George’s grandmother also kicked him out of her house due to his arrest. He was allegedly homeless for nine months, living in his vehicle and occasionally sleeping on friends’ couches.

It wasn’t until last February that George obtained a job and rent support from his brother and his friends, the lawsuit alleged.

George is now seeking a jury trial. He’s accusing the defendants of violating several state laws, as well as his First Amendment rights, after they allegedly used excessive force, unlawfully took his property, and selectively enforced the law to falsely arrest him in retaliation for protesting.

“Mr. George suffered physical and emotional injuries as a result of the violence he experienced at the hands of Defendants,” according to the lawsuit.

“Mr. George suffered deeply traumatizing injuries as an individual and as a Black person who was unlawfully arrested and subject to excessive force at a demonstration against excessive police use of force against Black people.”

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