A $50 million lawsuit against the City of Stone Mountain accuses its police of conducting hundreds of illegal traffic stops.
According to the federal complaint filed last week, police wrote traffic tickets based on readings from a laser speed detection device that had an expired certification. The citations were written between Dec. 29 and March 28.
Federal law requires that law enforcement agencies have their speed detection equipment checked and certified each year. Stone Mountains' detectors were re-certified in late March.
The lawsuit alleges that Stone Mountain police allowed the department's certification to lapse, but kept writing tickets and retaining more than $100,000 in "ill-gotten" fees and fines. Also, in more than a dozen cases, people stopped in Stone Mountain went to jail.
Decatur attorney Jennifer Watts represents more than 200 people who were ticketed, and she said Stone Mountain police are continuing to prosecute the cases.
"That's the part that trips me out," Watts told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "They know they are wrong, and they're still going ahead with prosecution."
Stone Mountain Police Chief Chauncey Troutman, named as a defendant in the suit, could not be reached Thursday for comment.
City Manager Barry Amos, also a named as a defendant, declined to comment Wednesday, referring the AJC to City Attorney Joe Fowler. Attempts to reach Fowler for comment were unsuccessful.
Watts said she learned of the issue when one person who was ticketed called her after doing a background check on the city's speed detection certification. She followed up and learned that 235 people had been stopped between December and March, and that Stone Mountain had collected thousands of dollars in fines and fees as a result.
In 17 cases, drivers were taken into custody because they had outstanding warrants or suspended licenses, Watts said.
The lawsuit accuses police of violation of oath of office and malicious arrest and imprisonment, claiming Stone Mountain officers used unlawful evidence obtained from the uncertified speed detectors to make the stops and the subsequent arrests.
"If the stop is wrong, anything that comes after the stop is wrong," Watts said.
In one case, a client who Watts declined to identify was on probation at the time of his traffic stop, and his driver's license, which he had gotten reinstated, still incorrectly reflected a revoked status. The man was arrested and spent 67 days in jail, she said.
"He lost his job, he lost his apartment, [and] he lost his car because by the time he got out, [impounders] wanted so much for storage that it didn't make any sense for him to pay it to retrieve the car," Watts said. "He's basically living in a motel with four other people."
The suit also accuses Stone Mountain of malicious prosecution, breach of fiduciary duty and negligence.
Watts said the $50 million she is seeking would compensate her clients for the money they paid in fees to the city, or in the case of those arrested, to repay them for lost time, wages and, in some cases, personal property.
"If [Stone Mountain] just gave everybody back their money that they got because of this situation, I would be halfway happy," she said. "The balance is putting people back in the situation that they would have been in had this never occurred.
"That doesn't even include punitive damages. That's trying to make the people whole for what Stone Mountain did."
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