Jones Day joins Policing Project at NYU School of Law in challenge to unconstitutional stops at Atlanta airport
Jones Day attorneys have joined with the Policing Project at NYU School of Law and counsel from the firm Lawrence & Bundy in representing actors and comedians Eric André and Clayton English in a lawsuit against Clayton County for its police department's program of racial profiling and coercive stops in jet bridges at Hartfield-Jackson International Airport ("ATL"). The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, challenges the constitutionality of these stops under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Messrs. André and English, both Black men, were profiled and illegally stopped in nearly identical situations several months apart. On April 21, 2021, Mr. André was traveling from Atlanta to Los Angeles. As he walked through the jet bridge to board the plane, two Clayton County Police Department ("CCPD") officers intercepted him and immediately asked if he was carrying illegal drugs. After approximately five minutes of questioning and reviewing his ticket and ID—during which other passengers squeezed by and gawked at the scene—the officers allowed him to board his flight. Mr. English, a stand-up comedian based in Atlanta, had a near-identical experience traveling from Atlanta to Los Angeles on October 30, 2020. CCPD has defended these coercive jet bridge stops as "consensual encounters." In the eight months preceding Mr. André's stop, 56% of the hundreds of passengers stopped by CCPD in ATL jet bridges were Black. But overall, only 8% of airline passengers in the United States are Black, making the odds that Black travelers were "randomly" selected for these stops less than one in 100 trillion.
As the lawsuit explains, the inherently coercive nature of these stops violates the Fourth Amendment. From the legal filing: "By ambushing passengers in this manner, the Unit's officers compound the enormous, preexisting compulsion to cooperate with airport law enforcement by exploiting the passengers' fear they will create an untoward scene or will appear guilty, subversive, or dangerous to their fellow passengers. By design, all of these factors exert tremendous coercive pressure on an individual passenger on the jet bridge to acquiesce to the officers' wishes. Those pressures are even greater for persons of color, given the history of racial profiling by airport security officers."
The Jones Day team is led by Richard H. Deane Jr. and Peter C. Canfield.
Press conference video courtesy of Policing Project at NYU School of Law.