Forty-four members of the so-called “Cartersville 70″ have been awarded a $900,000 settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit, according to their attorneys.
On New Year’s Eve in 2017, 70 people, including five juveniles, were arrested during a Bartow County house party for allegedly possessing less than an ounce of marijuana. Investigators previously said no one claimed the illegal drugs.
Twelve days later, the charges were dropped.
“It’s simply not possible for 70 people to possess the same alleged small amount of marijuana,” attorney Gerald Griggs, speaking on behalf of the Georgia NAACP, said following the arrests.
But by then, news of the arrests had made national headlines and the “Cartersville 70″ went viral on social media. Not only was the work of law enforcement questioned, but also the suspected racial bias: Of the 65 adults arrested, 50 were Black.
Many of those arrested on drug charges filed a federal lawsuit in 2019 claiming their constitutional rights were violated when officers, who said they smelled marijuana, entered the Cain Drive home that day and detained everyone attending a birthday party. Those arrested were humiliated when they were forced to undergo strip searches at the jail, the lawsuit stated.
“Visitors, some as young as 17 years old, were ordered to remove all of their clothing in front of two or more deputies, bend over at the waist, spread their buttocks with their hands, and cough multiple times,” the lawsuit states. “Male visitors were further ordered to lift their genitals. Once the search was over, some visitors were allowed to wear the clothes they were arrested in, while others were given jail uniforms.”
The lawsuit was filed against employees of the Cartersville Police Department, Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force and Bartow County Sheriff’s Office.
“These people’s lives were turned completely upside down,” Gerald Weber, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, said after filing the lawsuit. “It was a complete nightmare for them.”
In addition to SCHR attorneys, the plaintiffs were represented by John and Ashleigh Merchant, Marietta attorneys.
“Even though the charges were dropped years ago, it’s still affecting me mentally and emotionally,” Andrea Lopez, one of the named plaintiffs, said in a statement through her attorney. “I never pictured myself going through that. It’s made me more aware of prejudice in the legal system, more aware of what happens to people every day.”
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