Update - 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 firms Lawrence & Bundy and Canfield Law, LLC., in filing an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Eric André and Clayton English, internationally celebrated comedians and actors, 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 appeal follows the Northern District of Georgia's granting of the defendants' motion to dismiss in September 2023.

A wide range of groups and individuals—including several high-ranking current and former law enforcement officials; a group of prominent Black actors and directors including Tyler Perry, Jamie Foxx, Taraji P. Henson, Sterling K. Brown, and Jean Elie; and civil rights advocacy groups—have filed amicus briefs in support of Mr. André and Mr. English.

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, blocked his path, and immediately interrogated him about whether 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 , except CCPD also searched Mr. English's bag.

CCPD's program is run by its "Narcotics Unit – Airport Investigations Group," and it has defended these coercive jet bridge stops as "random," "consensual encounters." But over an eight-month period that included 402 stops, CCPD hardly ever found narcotics and only brought charges against two individuals. Instead, CCPD seized over $1 million from 25 individuals via civil asset forfeiture laws. Moreover, in the same eight-month period, 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 Firm's team is led by Richard H. Deane Jr. and Jason T. Burnette.

Press conference video courtesy of Policing Project at NYU School of Law.
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