WRITTEN AND CONTRIBUTED BY COY MALONE
What You Need to Know:
On New Year’s Eve 2018, Deja Heard rented out an Airbnb home to host her birthday party in Cartersville, GA.
While Cartersville Police canvassed the neighborhood, they claimed smelling marijuana, called for backup, entered the home, and told partygoers that a neighbor reported hearing gunshots. Police conducted an illegal search and found three legally owned firearms, one of which was locked in the attic and belonged to the home’s owner, and less than an ounce of marijuana outside on the ground.
No one claimed the marijuana, so police arrested everyone, including 65 adults and five juveniles from ages 15 to 31, and charged them for the same marijuana. Of the 65 adults who were arrested, 50 were Black. Strip searches were conducted at Bartow County Jail, where some spent to three.
News of the “Cartersville 70″ went viral as their names and mugshots were shared on national news and social media. The NAACP requested a review of the arrests and Bartow County District Attorney Rosemary Greene dropped all charges twelve days later, while pursuing charges on one person who allegedly possessed a small amount of cocaine on him.
Almost 50 of the “Cartersville 70” filed a lawsuit against the Cartersville Police department, Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force, and Bartow County Sheriff’s Office and settled for $900,000. “…A lot of our clients lost jobs, scholarships..they had military deferments…We believe this was treated differently because the patrons of the party were mostly Black,” said Gerry Weber, Senior Counsel with the Southern Center for Human Rights who represented the “Cartersville 70.”
In a statement, Cartersville’s city manager said it was a business decision to settle due to the number of parties involved, the years of litigation it would take to resolve, and because the city wouldn’t admit to any liability.
In another statement, Cartersville Police said they will continue to honor the 4th Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches.
Why You Need to Know:
Money doesn’t erase trauma or promise an ending to breaking laws, including illegal searches and wrongful arrests. Money helps but so does having police who uphold the laws they serve.