City of Atlanta police officers focusing on high-crime areas were pressured to meet unconstitutional arrest quotas and were promised rewards like pizza or shorter work days if they exceeded their numbers, according to court filings by two ex-officers involved in a misconduct lawsuit.
The department has long denied having arrest quotas, though it has said officers are expected to meet “performance goals.” Still, critics have blamed quotas for playing a role in the 2006 death of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, shot dead in her living room during a botched drug raid, as well as in other cases that spawned lawsuits.
Last week, two former officers being sued over a public strip search filed affidavits in which they said pulling down the pants of men in hopes of finding drugs was necessary to meet their quota of daily arrests.
They said they were reminded before each shift that they had arrest quotas even though federal courts have said officers must have an “articuable” reason or “probable cause” for any kind of search and that public strip searches are unconstitutional.
In a 2012 lawsuit, Ricky Sampson said he was stopped by the five members of the now-disbanded Red Dog unit in late 2008 as they trolled the West End area looking for drug crimes. Sampson says the officers pulled down his boxers and inspected his buttocks and genitals in front of bystanders including his girlfriend. He said they found no drugs and did not arrest him.
“My supervisors and commanding officers encouraged these searches in more than one way,” former officer Cayenne Mayes said in his affidavit. “They told us to ‘always check the underwear,’ … making very clear that Red Dog teams had to meet arrest quotas.”
Mayes was fired in 2011 for untruthfulness regarding a botched 2007 raid at a Midtown Atlanta gay bar.
“I was not a rogue officer,” Stalone Davis, who resigned from the APD, said in his affidavit. “I was following orders to make a strong presence, make arrests, help get drugs off the street… What we did was fine with the department so long as we were making arrests.”
Sampson sued the city as well as the five officers involved in the incident.
The Atlanta Police Department denies both the claims in Sampson’s suit and in the officers’ affidavits.
“Mr. Sampson’s lawsuit has no merit, and the allegations of former APD officers relating to the lawsuit are baseless,” APD said in an email. “The city will continue to defend the lawsuit in federal court, and we are confident that the court will find no merit to the allegations.”
None of the other officers involved has filed an affidavit.
In the Johnston case, some officers who were charged with misconduct said they lied to get search warrants so they could meet quotas.
Sampson’s suit isn’t the only strip search case. As of last spring the city had spent $770,000 to settle similar suits brought by men who said officers touched them inappropriately while looking for drugs that weren’t found. The five officers Sampson sued also were named in some of those cases.
“It should be noted that APD long ago disbanded the Red Dog Unit (and since) has held training conducted by a nationally-recognized expert on Fourth Amendment issues for all sworn officers, and (APD) will continue to update training on an ongoing basis,” the department said.
Davis wrote in his affidavit that, in cases where arrests were made, officers usually described the strip search in reports reviewed by supervisors. No report was filed about Sampson’s encounter because he was not arrested.
Mayes and Davis said they needed to make their quota — five arrests, one for each member of their team — and that was one of the reasons they stopped Sampson.
“We were encouraged to exceed the quota with the promise to have pizza and even DVD movies waiting for us back at headquarters,” Mayes’ affidavit said, adding officers also could go home early.
APD had many chances to address these problems before they became part of lawsuits, said Cristina Beamud, the former executive director of the Atlanta Citizen Review Board. Beamud said in an affidavit that she told or wrote Chief George Turner several times about reports of strip searches, but never got a response.
“After many years of being involved in police work and oversight,” Beamud wrote her affidavit filed along with the officers’, “I have never seen the administration of a police department or city government be less concerned or responsive regarding an apparent systematic problem of officer misconduct and disregard for the constitutional rights of citizens.”
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