A North Georgia police officer accused of racially profiling a woman and detaining her without cause has been cleared of any wrongdoing after an internal investigation.
A formal complaint was filed against Cumming police Officer Jonathan Fitzpatrick last month after an incident that occurred in the parking lot of Cumming Marketplace, a popular shopping destination in Forsyth County, authorities said.
Officers were dispatched to the shopping center just before 6 p.m. Nov. 15 after receiving multiple 911 calls about a hit-and-run with possible injuries, Cumming Police Chief David Marsh said previously.
Witnesses said that after the crash, three men with dreadlocks and duffel bags exited a silver BMW and ran behind the Massage Envy store. Two of the suspects were located and arrested when officers arrived at the scene, according to an incident report.
About that time, Ashley Harris said she returned to her car in the parking lot after shopping at Best Buy. She noticed heavy police activity and said Fitzpatrick approached her and asked why she left the scene of the accident, according to the 76-page internal affairs report.
Harris, who is black, was handcuffed and questioned after refusing to provide the officer with her driver’s license, authorities said. Things went downhill from there as she began crying and hyperventilating, according to her account. She complained of severe back pain, but said officers and paramedics who responded to the scene refused to treat her because they believed she was involved in the earlier hit-and-run.
During the subsequent internal investigation, Fitzpatrick told his superiors that he approached Harris because she fit the description of the suspects.
“As Officer Fitzpatrick patrolled the area, he observed a person who was wearing a black jacket with dreadlocks, who he believed to be male,” the report states.
After speaking with Harris, Fitzpatrick realized she was a woman, “but wasn’t sure if there had been a female in the hit-and-run vehicle where multiple suspects fled the scene.”
According to police, the handcuffed Harris became combative and belligerent, screaming profanities at the officers in the shopping center’s parking lot.
“I’m in (expletive) handcuffs and I didn’t do anything,” Harris is heard shouting in one officer’s body camera video.
At one point, a distraught Harris collapsed to the ground and refused to get up, according to multiple officers’ accounts.
Police released her about 30 or 40 minutes after detaining her after verifying that she was inside the Best Buy at the time of the hit-and-run. Body camera footage shows police inside the store looking over surveillance video with one of Best Buy’s loss prevention officers.
“What time does it show her coming in?” a Forsyth County deputy asks.
The employee told him that Harris entered the store at 5:03 p.m., and a receipt found in the front seat of her car showed she made a purchase at 5:55 p.m.
“It appears she was in here long before the accident,” the deputy says in the video.
After that, Harris’ handcuffs were removed and she was told that she was free to leave, according to the internal report.
In the department’s response to her allegations, Fitzpatrick’s supervisors wrote that the officer acted appropriately given the “totality of the circumstances and recommended that no disciplinary action be taken.
“Once Officer Fitzpatrick verified Ms. Harris wasn’t involved in the crime/crimes in question, he immediately released her without hesitation,” the report states. “... In no way did Officer Fitzpatrick violate Ms. Harris’ civil or constitutional rights.”