There have been many issues that have surfaced in the year 2020, however, one of the most impactful movements that have occurred are The Black Lives Matter protests. The BLM movement started after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. These protests have taken place across the United States and have included thousands of Americans speaking out against the injustices happening against the black community. The Black Lives Matter movement mirrors the Civil Rights movement that occurred during the 1960s. Those protests were in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was an advocate and spokesperson during the 1960’s Civil Rights movement.
“This is taking place in a world that is not only deeply fractured, but also deeply fragile because of the coronavirus, the economic crisis that makes the country look a little bit like 1929, and the existential threat of climate change,” says Burnham, university distinguished professor of law at Northeastern. “It’s everything collapsing all around us.”
The protests that occurred during the 1960s dealt with injustices easy to see in the community, but the Black Lives Matter protests are dealing with inequalities are not as easy to see or comprehend. There is a deep-rooted issue of racism in the history of the United States. This has caused inequities in our society and does not provide equal opportunity for everyone in America. A major issue that is linked with these inequities is racial profiling that many use especially law enforcement. Below is an outline of a lawsuit that has been filed against the city of Atlanta due to excessive force used by the police. If you or a loved one has been a victim of police brutality please contact The Cochran Firm today for your FREE consultation.
Atlanta civil rights attorneys have called out Atlanta City Hall by filing a lawsuit against the city as police brutality cases linger, and victims’ lives hang in the ballast. Around 20 attorneys representing victims of police brutality, and victims’ family members came together at the steps of Atlanta City Hall Monday, October 26th to send a message to the City of Atlanta’s legal department. Their unabashed message was clear. They are beyond dissatisfied with the city of Atlanta’s methods of handling their cases. The lawyers are calling for accountability not only from the city legal department, but also from Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and members of the City Council.
Reasons for this were brought up by attorneys. The lawyer explained that the city’s legal department does not often participate in settlement discussions, and they often stall taking a lawsuit to trial. These attorneys explained that this problem is specific to Atlanta, and they have not had issues with other cities elsewhere in this context. The lawsuits that the attorneys discussed were civil cases brought by victims or their families against the city. Clients include family members of individuals who were shot and killed by police officers.
The attorneys represent the families of police brutality victims Jimmy Atchison, Caine Rogers, Deaundre Phillips, Rayshard Brooks, and many others who claim the city mishandled the victims’ cases. The families voiced that not only did they handle the cases terribly and horribly, but they also procrastinated a lot of different things with their loved ones’ cases. Altogether, the lawyers explained they have 15 active lawsuits against the city for police brutality, some of which have been pending in the system for several years. The lawyers explained that while publicly the mayor and city council side with their clients, privately they are going through hell to get their clients justice.
Local Atlanta civil rights lawyer, Mawauli Davis said “There’s an injustice that continues to take place right here in City Hall.” Davis explained while the public has seen city councilmembers marching in protest, and elected officials coming to funerals, yet there has been no justice for their clients, the victims of the police brutality.
Shean Williams, a lawyer with The Cochran Firm who has five ongoing cases against the city, claimed the city has a backhanded approach to dealing with the police brutality cases. The lawyer explained while the city’s leaders such as Mayor Bottoms publicly took a stance that was sympathetic to the victims and their families, they staunchly fight those same claims in court. Williams explained, “You can’t say publicly, ‘We’re sorry, we’re outraged,’ and show compassion, but in the courtroom show the opposite.” Williams said the city fought the cases “tooth and nail in the courts.”
This two-faced effort was emphasized throughout the press conference. Attorney Brian Spears, who has practiced law in the city since the 70’s stated that little to nothing has changed since he first began practicing. Spears expressed that this is too long and that that is not a condition that the city should be allowed to continue.
Tomika Miller, widow of Rayshard Brooks who was shot and killed outside an Atlanta Wendy’s in June explained this bifurcated nature, pointing out how Mayor Bottoms attended the funeral and consoling the family in public, yet after the event they never heard from her again. Attorney Tanya Miller, who represents the family of Jimmy Atchison, who was shot and killed by an officer in 2019 also attended the press conference. She explained that she filed a lawsuit in early October, after the city declined any settlement negotiations, and further, the officer had no criminal repercussions.
Miller stated, “We are in essence waiting for their response.” She further explained, “The city uses every possible legal leverage, a legal maneuver that they can to avoid taking responsibility for what their officers have done.” Miller asserted that while the mayor is vocal on social media about her support for these families, and has made campaign promises to work on the police brutality in the Atlanta city system, she has been hypocritical where the city’s legal team has not been accommodating to those same families she was so vocal of supporting on her social media platforms. Miller states “Those placated acts seem to be the limit.” She further expressed, “We ask you to be intentional in our leadership, in this space, as you are on the campaign trail.
Attorney Justin Miller explained the city’s efforts to drag their feet on these lawsuits, and avoid settlement are what extends the length of these lawsuits, some taking five to six years to handle. Craig Jones, an attorney who has argued several cases in front of the Supreme Court, and has practiced civil rights law for over thirty years claims the city has a “split personality.” He explained that while on television, the lawyers for the city will say one thing, in court the legal team will say something completely contrasting their public statement.
Jones explained that this leaves victims and even police officers out to dry by the city when they make an error. Jones expressed that this treatment of officers could in turn be a deterrent, making the police officers want to work somewhere else. While in some of the city’s police brutality cases, the police officers have been fired, attorneys representing victims say this is not enough. Attorney L. Chris Stewart explained that the issues of concern with police brutality cases were complicated by the fact that the city of Atlanta does not have insurance for its officers, and if the city were to settle a case, taxpayer dollars must pay for the settlement as opposed to a third-party insurance company.
Shean Williams stated, “there is no reason for this city with all of this revenue, not to have insurance coverage for this city, for their officers” The attorneys explained that while police vehicles may be insured, the officers are not. Therefore, one of the biggest issues addressed was that Atlanta does not insure their police officers, subsequently forcing them to fight legal battles with their own assets on the line.
Attorney Chris Stewart explained in representing the family of one of the victims of police brutality, Rayshard Brooks, that he has faced situations where the city will offer up an accused officer behind closed doors, then claim the city itself is not liable. Stewart further explained the city’s police officers do not know they are uninsured. He voiced that their police car often has more insurance than they would have for a police brutality situation. Stewart claimed that covering police officers with an insurance policy is beneficial for both sides. He explained the police officers are out there risking their lives, and that the city should care about them enough to cover them with insurance, to benefit them and their families. Attorney Shean Williams echoed this sentiment, arguing that the city has put the victims’ families seeking justice through years of red tape in the legal system.
A spokesperson for the city made a statement that the city does not comment on pending cases. However, the spokesperson did comment on the city’s insurance. The spokesperson explained that the city itself is self-insured, but it is doubtful that coverage would include police officers who have acted outside of city policies while using private insurance coverage. The city had also previously stated that the officers in some of the cases in question were not following department policy in incidents that resulted in lawsuits.
The spokesperson also related that city employee such as police officers were represented by the city if they were to be sued as a result of actions taken in the course of their employment. Attorneys explained that while they consistently must wait several years to reach settlements in the city of Atlanta, other cities are able to resolve their civil lawsuits in a matter of months. The attorneys pointed out many cities across the United States that have paid settlements to victims’ families.
For example, the city of Louisville recently agreed to pay Breonna Taylor’s family $12 million after she was killed in a raid in March involving city police officers. Attorney Shean Williams explained that while Breonna Taylor’s family has already gotten some justice, some families in Atlanta have been waiting several years waiting for the city officials to step up.
Williams also represented 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston’s family. Johnston was shot and killed in 2006 when Atlanta officers served a no-knock warrant at her home. Williams explained how the city took 4 years to reach the 4.9 million settlement, and the family had to continue to wait to be paid. Williams explained the extensive time they drew out the settlement and funds was even worse due to the fact that insurance did not cover the case, and the city had to use taxpayer money. Legal teams for the police brutality cases explained that insuring the police officers is the solution to these issues.
Another lawsuit awaiting justice is one that has been delayed for four years now. This is the case of Caine Rogers who was killed by an Atlanta police officer in 2016. Caine was shot while driving after he reportedly swerved to avoid an officer’s patrol car. Authorities confirmed that Caine was not affiliated or involved with any crime that the officers were responding to. The family of Rogers is hopeful but not optimistic the case will be swiftly resolved. Many families are discouraged, yet some remain optimistic.
The family of Deundre Phillips is optimistic that the attorney’s actions will help push the situation and get some of these cases cleared up. Tyvonia Phillips seeks closure and justice for her son that was killed by police in 2017 during a struggle with a police officer inside of a vehicle. The family of Jimmie Atchison also attended the conference. Atchison was reportedly shot in the face and killed when the police found him hiding in a closet as they attempted to serve a search warrant.
One lawsuit that has obtained some justice is the case of Rashard Brooks. Brooks was running from the police when he was shot in the back, kicked, and offered no medical treatment. Brooks was shot when he did not pose an immediate threat of death. The police officer was charged with murder. This felony murder charge carries life in prison or the death penalty if prosecutors choose to seek it. The officer was further charged with 10 other offenses that could lead to decades punishable behind bars. The decision to prosecute in the Brooks case came less than 5 days after the killing outside a Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta, and just a month after the George Floyd case which rocked our nation. Attorney L. Chris Stewart said that “we shouldn’t have to celebrate as African Americans when we get a piece of justice like today. We shouldn’t have to celebrate and parade when an officer is held accountable.”
The charges have caused some Atlanta police officers to walk off the job, or protest in response. While the view up until recently has been that officers are justified in using deadly force in a case in which the suspect has a weapon that could cause grievous bodily harm, some experts believe this could change. A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research says more Americans today than five years ago believe police brutality is a very serious problem that far too often goes undisciplined and unequally targets black Americans.
There are hopes that this action by local civil rights attorneys will beget action on behalf of city officials to move forward with these police brutality cases, as well as enact reform measures to make sure these circumstances do not occur anytime in the future. There are hopes for the city to ensure police officers individually as well. The families lawyers voiced that they will continue advocating zealously for their clients, and make recommendations for the city’s legal team as they continue to the fight for justice.
1. AJC: https://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta-news/lawyers-call-out-atlanta-city-hall-as-police-brutality-cases-linger/XBRTNQWC6VH6XBKWUWHCTJYSQQ/
2. 11alive: https://www.11alive.com/article/news/local/attorneys-criticize-atlanta-leaders-for-the-handling-of-civil-lawsuits-following-police-brutality-cases/85-f6bc7222-00d8-4ffe-8af2-977a926dc72f
3. CBS: https://atlanta.cbslocal.com/2020/10/27/alleged-atlanta-police-brutality-victims-families-demand-city-buy-insurance/
4. GDB: https://www.gpb.org/news/2020/10/26/atlanta-civil-rights-attorneys-unite-criticize-citys-handling-of-police-brutality
6. Northeastern: https://news.northeastern.edu/2020/06/04/how-do-todays-black-lives-matter-protests-compare-to-the-civil-rights-movement-of-the-1960s/
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