Even more extreme examples have become public since then.
On Sept. 19, Sean Ramsey was arrested for holding up a handwritten sign asking motorists for help. Ramsey, who is homeless, couldn't pay the $200 bond for the offense of being a pedestrian soliciting in a roadway. His charges were dismissed Oct. 4 but he remained in jail until Nov. 29, 70 days after his arrest, apparently overlooked. He was released after the Southern Center filed a petition in Fulton Superior Court.
Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said reforming the cash bond system at Atlanta Municipal Court is one of her priorities. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Randall McCrary spent more than two months in jail after he was arrested at a gas station on Boulevard for shouting at customers. McCrary, who had covered himself with his own feces, was charged with disorderly conduct. His bail: $500. McCrary was released Jan. 9 after a stranger saw an AJC story about his situation and paid his bond. Since he was in jail, the Supplemental Security Income he received because of his mental illness was terminated.
A Work in Progress
The proposed ordinance, which will be debated in the Atlanta City Council’s Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee Tuesday, says “the City of Atlanta wishes to ensure that persons arrested and booked into the custody of the City of Atlanta not remain in jail due to their inability to pay cash bond collateral.”
But Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights, said that is not what the proposed ordinance actually does. She said, as currently written, it still lets judges require a cash bond to be released from jail.
Still, Geraghty said the civil rights groups were glad to see some of the language, which they believe moves in the right direction.
“It sounds like we’re on the same page in terms of the purpose of the revised ordinance and the principles at issue, which is great news,” she said.
“We think there is work needed in the body of the ordinance,” Geraghty said, noting it contained some conflicts.
Lawyer Sarah Geraghty (Photo courtesy of the Southern Center for Human Rights)
Bottoms said she expected the judges, a different branch of government, to make adjustments that comply with the spirit of the local law her office is pushing.
“We need to make sure our judges are following the law as we codify it. We are making it clear that there should not be cash bonds,” the mayor said. “It is my hope … that they are aligned.”
The Southern Center and Civil Rights Corps had written letters — first to former Mayor Kasim Reed and then to Bottoms soon after she took office — asking the city to abandon the pre-set cash bail system Atlanta has been using. Other cities nationwide have made changes to their use of pre-set bail while others — Calhoun northwest of Atlanta and Houston — are defending theirs in federal courts.
“This is concerning anytime you have people who are jailed simply because they haven’t had the opportunity to have their day in court or they haven’t been able to pay (a bond),” Bottoms said.
“It’s something we needed to do as a city. It really was a no-brainer for me,” she said.
Geraghty suggested Atlanta mimic an ordinance that New Orleans recently adopted.
New Orleans does not allow the detention of anyone simply because they don’t have the means to post bond. It allows, however, for different pre-trial procedures for two categories of offenses —less serious crimes and then family violence offenses.
“What is needed, in our view, is a more fully revised, internally coherent ordinance that will eliminate the two-tiered pre-trial system of detention while also giving judges the discretion to set appropriate release conditions in the more serious cases,” Geraghty said.