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 lawyers are calling out Atlanta City Hall by filing a lawsuit against the city as police brutality cases linger, and victim's lives hang in the ballast. Almost 20 attorneys representing victims of police brutality, and victims’ family members came together at the steps of Atlanta City Hall Monday, October 26th to voice a collective message to the City of Atlanta’s legal department. Their collective message was clear. They are infuriated and disappointed with the way the city of Atlanta is dealing with their cases.
The lawyers are calling for accountability not only from the city legal department, who tries the cases, but also from leadership in the city such as Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and members of the City Council. The lawyers explained they filed the lawsuit due to the fact that Atlanta’s legal department will not easily participate in settlement discussions and the fact that they delay taking their lawsuits 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 involved 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 and delayed their cases.
The families voiced that not only did they handle the cases in a disrespectful manner, but they also delayed their loved ones’ cases. The lawyers collectively have 15 active lawsuits against the city for police brutality, some of which have been pending in the system for years on end. 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, there has been no justice yet 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 ’70s 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 the city’s two-faced nature, pointing out how Mayor Bottoms attended the funeral and consoling the family in public, yet after she left the public eye, 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, 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 of those promises, 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. This illustrates the claims that the city is being two-faced regarding these trials.
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 delay these lawsuits, and avoid settlement are what extends the length of these lawsuits, some taking several years to come to an end.
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 expressed that this treatment of officers could in turn be a deterrent, making the police officers want to work somewhere else where they do have insurance coverage and are protected in case of claims of liability.
While in some of the city’s police brutality cases, the police officers have been fired, attorneys representing victims say this scattered action is simply 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 may not know or realize they are uninsured. He voiced that their police car often has more insurance than they would have for a police brutality situation. To these attorneys, this does not make sense, and reform is needed in this context.
Stewart claimed that covering police officers with an insurance policy is mutually beneficial for both parties to lawsuits. 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 agreed with this thought, 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.
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. Therefore, this is not a national issue, but a regional one instead, specific to Atlanta.
For example, the attorneys related that 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. The attorneys explained that this behavior has gone on for far too long, and it is simply no longer acceptable. Legal teams for the police brutality cases explained that insuring the police officers could be a key solution in resolving 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 victim’s families are discouraged by the cities delays and lack of effort in pursuing an end to these lawsuits, 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 Rayshard 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.
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. This illustrates the disconnect between the police and the city, and the fact that reform is desperately needed to resolve so many prevalent issues.
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. Reform could mean more training or different policies for officers in the city of Atlanta.
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 create reform on behalf of city officials to move forward with these brutality cases, as well as enact reform measures to make sure these cases do not repeat themselves. There are hopes for the city to ensure police officers individually as well to help move cases forward.
1. AJC: sent to us ab
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