Arrest quotas led DeKalb officer to plant drugs, lawsuit claims

A frame capture from the store video shows Officer Kendrick, right, and another officer with Alphonso Eleby, seated, seconds before Kendrick claimed that he found loose marijuana on the ground near Eleby.

A frame capture from the store video shows Officer Kendrick, right, and another officer with Alphonso Eleby, seated, seconds before Kendrick claimed that he found loose marijuana on the ground near Eleby.

Alphonso Eleby had stopped at a convenience store for gas and was talking with a friend when DeKalb County police officer Demetrius Kendrick pulled in to buy some chips.

Within moments, after backup had arrived, Kendrick had strip-searched Eleby and arrested him because the officer said he saw Eleby, sitting on the curb, toss some loose marijuana onto the grass behind him.

Kendrick, according to court documents, was nearing the end of his shift and had not made a single arrest that day. Those same documents allege that he needed one before he clocked out for the night — because of arrest quotas that the department says do not exist.

U.S. District Judge Leigh May, who is hearing Eleby’s lawsuit over the incident, ruled last week, however, that the police department maintained a “quota system” and that compliance was “strongly encouraged.”

In an affidavit in support of the suit, one former DeKalb officer said the squad had developed a rhyme early in the 2000s: “two tickets a day keep the sergeants away. Five a day keep the lieutenants at bay.”

Judge May said it would be up to a jury to decide whether Kendrick had planted evidence so he could arrest Eleby and meet his arrest quota.

DeKalb County, in court filings, said it has no formal quota system, although the department does require evidence that officers are working — and not goofing off — when they go into the field, usually alone.

“You don’t expect these guys to go out there and do nothing,” said Maj. Steve Fore, spokesman for the DeKalb County Police Department. “They keep a patrol activity sheet. It shows they are productively working… There’s an expected level of productivity to show you’re out there working. That doesn’t mean tickets or arrests if you answer calls or are working arrests…. We’ve never told them they have to have a certain number of arrests or tickets.”

Mark Bullman, the attorney who filed Eleby’s federal lawsuit, said records show otherwise.

He has police department documents that show the statistics for individual officers. There are columns headed “citation goal,” “total citations” and “% to goal citations.” There are also listings for “arrest goal,” “total arrests” and “% to goal arrests.” Bullman has copies of “development improvement plans” for officers who were not meeting their goals that laid out what they needed to do to keep their jobs.

The average requirement noted in the documents was one to two “custodial arrests” and two citations per shift.

“That day (Kendrick) had not made a custodial arrest and it was the end of his shift,” Bullman said. “They don’t have win all the cases (at trial) to get their quota. They just have to make an arrest.”

‘Sad day for good cops and bad cops’

Eleby and his friend, Keione Harris, were arrested that night on drug charges along with Harris’ girlfriend. Harris and the woman told police they had pot. Eleby said he didn’t have any.

Two years later, after his charges were dropped, Eleby sued DeKalb County and Kendrick and another officer individually.

“It’s a sad day for both good cops and bad cops,” Bullman said, because cases like this one only raise questions about other arrests and could mean “a bunch of convictions of really bad guys (are) overturned.”

Kendrick was charged with violating his oath of office in connection with the incident but was acquitted at trial in 2014. He is still on DeKalb’s police force.

He did not respond to requests for comment, but in recorded interviews with internal affairs officers he insisted he did nothing wrong.

For a time, Kendrick insisted that the video had been manipulated but the internal affairs officers said it had been examined by an expert and the recording had not been altered.

Captured on store security camera

On July 6, 2012, Eleby and Harris had both stopped for gas at a Chevron station in DeKalb and were talking at Harris’ car when Kendrick drove up to buy potato chips.

Kendrick said he smelled marijuana coming from Harris’ pickup and called for other officers and a drug-sniffing dog. Harris and his girlfriend willingly gave up the marijuana they had, but Eleby was strip-searched twice. While Eleby stood in the parking lot, an officer pulled down Eleby’s pants and touched him around his groin and buttocks, according to court records.

Eleby’s pockets were turned inside out when he was told to sit on a curb separating the parking spaces from the store. An officer stood watch beside him

Kendrick claimed he saw Eleby’s move his hands and 15 minutes later the officer said he found a “joint’s worth” of “loose” marijuana on the ground next to Eleby.

A store surveillance camera recorded it all.

The contents of Eleby’s pockets were put inside a ball cap that was placed on the ground beside him. Several times a group of officers stood around him talking and sorting through things they had taken from Harris and the Harris’ girlfriend. At one point, Kendrick is seen directing the female officer who had been watching Eleby to Harris’ truck and it was then that Kendrick bends down and appears to move something. Then he calls over his fellow officers and points to the ground.

‘I don’t believe you saw that’

According to an audio recording of Kendrick’s interview with police internal affairs officers, the store’s video did not show what Kendrick described.

“I don’t believe you saw him do that,” one of the internal affairs officers said to Kendrick, according to the recording obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Where did he get it (the marijuana)?” the IA officer asked. “His hands were on his knees the whole time.”

The investigator tells Kendrick his story of finding the pot is incredible.

The investigator notes that the marijuana wasn’t in a baggy. “How many people have you found with loose weed on them?” the investigator asked Kendrick. “I’d say zero. People don’t carry loose weed in their pockets.”

A second internal affairs officer asked Kendrick whether he felt pressure to make arrests so he could stay on a special unit, the Neighborhood Enforcement Team or NET.

“I know if you don’t make enough arrests or generate enough tickets …you don’t get on the NET team very long. So did you feel enough stress on you to make an arrest here,” the second investigator asked Kendrick.

Kendrick said, “No.”

‘Recommended for termination’

Bullman said affidavits and depositions of former DeKalb officers say otherwise. It's much like what was learned after Atlanta police officers, allegedly under pressure to meet quotas, shot and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston during a botched drug raid on the wrong house in 2006.

Records show DeKalb officers who didn’t make their numbers could be transferred to areas far from their homes, put on shifts that made it hard to spend time with their children, denied days off or approval for special training or not cleared to work extra jobs. In the extreme, officers could be fired, according to former DeKalb cops and written officers’ performance evaluations.

In one evaluation, a supervisor writes that a certain officer is required to “locate and investigate at least two suspicious persons on a daily basis and also two suspicious vehicles on a daily basis with a weekly average of eight suspicious persons and eight suspicious vehicles.”

The officer also must make more traffic stops “and write a minimum of three citations a day with a weekly average of 12.

“If the officer falls below the goal during any given week, the officer will be placed on a 90-day developmental plan and recommended for termination.”