Cops stopped Eric André as he boarded a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles in April 2021, and a few months earlier, the same thing happened to another black comedian at the same place, a lawsuit alleges.
André and fellow comedian Clayton English filed suit claiming the stops were the result of racial profiling.
“The police came out of nowhere, almost ambush-style, and started, separated me. I was the only person of color on the jet bridge at the time,” André said in a press conference on Tuesday.
“They joined me. They asked me if I was selling drugs, transporting drugs, what kind of drugs I had on me,” he said.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday by André and English says the stop was part of an anti-drug program by the Clayton County Police Department at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport that unfairly targets black fliers.
“It was clearly racial profiling. It was a humiliating and dehumanizing experience, humiliating, I squeezed all the other passengers in this claustrophobic jet bridge looking at me, as if I was an aggressor,” said André.
The police stopped the Englishman on a flight, also to Los Angeles, in October 2020.
CNN has reached out to the police department and the Atlanta Department of Aviation for comment.
“I was almost on the plane when two officers came out on the flight bridge, showed me my badges and started asking me if I had any illegal drugs like cocaine, and I feel cornered on a jet bridge and I felt the need to comply.” The Englishman said at the press conference.
After the incident with André, Clayton County police denied any wrongdoing, CNN affiliate WSB-TV reported.
The station published the following statement released by the police at the time:
“On April 21, 2021, the Clayton County Police Department conducted a consensual encounter with a male passenger, later identified as Eric Andre, as he was preparing to fly from the Atlanta airport to California. Mr. Andre chose to speak with investigators during the initial encounter. During the encounter, Mr. Andre voluntarily he gave investigators information about his travel plans.
“Mr. Andre also voluntarily consented to a search of his luggage but the investigators decided not to. Investigators determined there was no reason to pursue an interview and therefore ended the encounter. Mr. Andre boarded the plane without being arrested and continued his journey. Drug The Enforcement Administration and the Atlanta Police Department did not assist in this consensual encounter.”
The lawsuit says the Clayton County Police Department describes the “bridge ban program” as “random” “consensual encounters” but says that in a 9/11 aviation environment, law enforcement at airports is unlikely. unless necessary.
The two name several members of the Clayton County Police Department in the lawsuit and allege that the department conducts these stops and searches in a way that targets Black travelers. The filing cites records from the Clayton County Police Department, which show that 56 percent of the passengers (or 378 people whose races are listed) stopped in this manner were black.
“The Clayton County Police Department, along with the county attorney’s office, sometimes bans passengers on boarding bridges from boarding planes to ask if they have drugs,” Barry Friedman. the prosecutor’s lawyer, he said at the press conference.
“It’s not a very successful prohibition program,” Friedman said. Clayton County Police Department records show that out of 402 jet bridge stops from August 2020 to April 2021, only three were apprehended, according to the lawsuit.
“They’ve taken very few drugs, but they’ve taken a lot of money from the passengers,” said Friedman. The filing calls the jet bridge program “economically profitable.”
“During the 8-month period in question, the program seized $1,036,890.35 in cash and money orders through 25 civil asset seizures,” the filing states.
Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize property that they believe is connected to a crime. Organizations such as the ACLU have criticized this as a legal way for police to steal from civilians, as it is very difficult to get one’s property after being apprehended.
“However, of the 25 passengers whose cash was seized, 24 were allowed to continue their journey, often on the same flight, and only two were charged with any related offence.”
“The Clayton County Police Department has described this program as a drug interdiction program. From what we’re able to see from the open records information we’ve received, it appears to be an unsuccessful drug interdiction program, if that is what it is,” Richard Deane, another member of the plaintiff’s legal team, said. in his press conference.
“What’s happening is, to a large extent, it’s organized to seize people’s money in the hope that they won’t make a claim on that money later,” he said.
André described the experience as “traumatizing”.
“When two policemen stop you, you don’t feel the right to leave, especially when they start asking you about drugs. The whole experience was traumatizing. I felt underestimated,” he said. “I want to use my resources and my platform to bring national attention to this incident so that it stops.”