Two Comedians Sue After Being Racially Profiled By Police At An Atlanta Airport Jet Bridge

Two comedians are suing over being searched for drugs at the Atlanta airport while boarding their flights. The stops and searches lack probably cause, and are generally based on racial profiling (duh).

  • Clayton English “English was stopped while flying from Atlanta, where he lives, to Los Angeles for work on Oct. 30, 2020, the lawsuit says.”

  • Eric André “had finished a shoot for HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones” and was traveling from Charleston, South Carolina, to his home in Los Angeles on April 21, 2020, when he was stopped after a layover in Atlanta.”

Officers blocked them as they entered the jet bridge and asked if they were carrying illegal drugs, the lawsuit says. Both were asked to hand over their boarding passes and identification.

Profiling at airports happens all over the world. If you land in Japan, avoid standing in a customs line behind South Asians because they’re going to get far more scrutiny than you and the line will take awhile. In the U.S., don’t carry cash with you to the airport if you’re a minority.

Clayton County police officers and investigators from the county district attorney’s office selectively stop passengers in the narrow jet bridges used to access planes, the lawsuit says. The officers take the passengers’ boarding passes and identification and interrogate them, sometimes searching their bags, before they board their flights, the lawyers say in the lawsuit.

According to police, the stops in question are totally voluntarily. People just invite the cops to detain them and search them for drugs! Those silly passengers who have actual drugs on them are totally willing to have their drugs found. Sure…

Over a 9 month period, police stopped 402 passengers at the jet bridge in Atlanta. 68% of those were minorities. Fewer than 1% – just 3 – yielded ‘drug seizures’ which consisted of:

about 10 grams of drugs from one passenger, 26 grams of “suspected THC gummies” from another, and six prescription pills without a prescription from a third, the lawsuit says. Only the first and third person were charged.

Six prescription pills without a prescription, and that person was charged? Did you know, by the way, that many states make it illegal to use generic pill boxes (like those ‘7 day reminder’ boxes that you put each day’s pills into), since the packaging doesn’t include each pill’s prescription?

Why on earth would they bother stopping someone – more than one person per day – on the jet bridge with odds so low? They aren’t catching anyone moving weight. At most it’s 6 pills or 26 grams of gummies. That’s easy!

Those 402 stops also yielded more than $1 million in cash and money orders from a total of 25 passengers. All but one were allowed to continue their travels, and only two — the ones who also had drugs — were charged, the lawsuit says. Eight of the 25 challenged the seizures, and Clayton County police settled each case, returning much of the seized money, the lawsuit says.

Law enforcement gets to keep some of the money they seize, splitting it across different agencies (‘finders keepers’ or ‘you eat what you kill’). And they’re keeping the money from people who didn’t have drugs on them, and weren’t charged with any crime. Most people don’t even bother challenging the seizures. And when there’s a challenge, “police settled” means that the government had no justification for the seizure but still kept some of the money because the process to get all of it back is costly and cumbersome for the traveler.

By the way over the period 2007–2016 the DEA seized a total of $3.2 billion in cash with not a single conviction tied to the money.

More on the horrible practice of civil asset forfeiture:

(HT: @crucker)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is civil asset forfeiture and shakedown by local cops run amok. Maddening. Never give consent and leave the weed in Vegas.

  2. Sounds like a lot of baloney, not that the police harassed and victimized American citizens, but the racial aspect. The police are terrible to all citizens. The police perpetrate the war on drugs on the public because it doesn’t want competition. In no way can any society that is described as “free” criminalize individuals for deciding what drugs, foods, or beverages they consume or sell. Civil asset forfeiture is another thing that allows the police to steal money from citizens.

    I do hate when people bring up the race card because it belittles all the other races who are victims of police action and policing policy who don’t get attention from the media or politicians because they don’t fit into the narrative.

    A few things to note – Atlanta has a high Black population and of course a random police interaction will more likely than not involve the Black population. Blacks as others have pointed out here commit the highest rate of crime based on fbi crime statistics so it makes sense Blacks will get more police attention for actual violent crimes. Blacks also have the highest rate of gang participation and the police often use drugs as a pretext to harass gang members.

    What comes from this will be complaints about race while the actual injustice and crime of civil asset forfeiture, drug laws, police searches, border searches, TSA abuse, customs searches and downloading of electronic data at the border with no evidence of a crime are ignored.

  3. This raises some interesting legal questions. At some airports, there are road signs as you approach the terminal stating that entry onto airport grounds constitutes consent to search. Is there any authority that this is limited only to federal officers and within certain capacities? (TSA, customs, etc.?)

    Another issue is many (if not most) federally owned properties have legal agreements in place which allow local (non-fed) law enforcement to be present and to enforce state law on federal property. At many places, like VA hospitals, there’s no federal law enforcement present and it’s all on the locals to provide law enforcement services. However I don’t know/believe that local law enforcement can enforce federal law under these agreements.

    Taken together, my question is whether local LEO’s have “free reign” to search whoever/whatever they want in the airport? Stated differently, is PC an automatic based upon mere presence in an airport? Is it different if it’s a local LEO vs a fed?

    Thanks for anyone with a legal mind who can provide some clarity here.

  4. Clayton Co., which is part of the metro ATL, is a joke. Mismanaged by local clowns who don’t know what they’re doing, and apparently their PD is cut from the same cloth. This story proves it again. It’s too bad Atlanta’s jewel, the airport, is located in it.
    With <1% success rate, why would you even call it "profiling"? Clearly, your "profiling" algorithm fails over 99% of the time. May as well call it what it is, "random searches".

  5. DOODNESS. I find it interesting that the author AUTOMATICALLY says, “racial profiling”. I’ve not heard of either of these “comedians” so I have no bias one way or the other. However, the author must use race as a basis to stir up sentiment. Stick to the damned facts and not add irrelevant material to stir up trouble. JACKASS

  6. Interestingly, Clayton County GA’s police force is majority female and minorities make up almost half of the workforce.

  7. @Tim Dunn – they have a clown for sheriff, Victor Hill. His case is starting in court today. Being sued for excessive force, bullying prisoners.

  8. According to the lawyers, 8% of passengers at the airport were black, while 56% of those stopped were Black

  9. @Win – terrible point. The lead paragraph in the article linked says, “Comedians Eric André and Clayton English are challenging a police program at the Atlanta airport they say violates the constitutional rights of airline passengers, particularly Black passengers, through racial profiling and coercive searches”

    Later, the article quotes the plaintiff’s lawyers as claiming that the stops “rely on coercion, and targets are selected disproportionately based on their race”

    All Gary did was quote the article, which talked to the plaintiffs. Given that you had 7x the chance of being stopped boarding a plane if you are black, I’d say they have a case.

    @John Dogas and @Gennady- you both seem to think it’s OK to stop black people at a much higher rate “because they are the criminals” and “it’s not racial profiling “because it only has a 1% success rate”… Choosing your “random” subjects on the basis that they are black is racial profiling. One reason why they only have a 1% success rate is it doesn’t work, at least for this target demographic. I would guess that black people have a heightened awareness of unreasonable search and seizure and thus are much *less* likely than your average airline passenger to travel with contraband…

  10. @George You seem to think you understand what was said, but clearly you didn’t. You misinterpret what I said, and what Win said. You really need to work on reading comprehension.

  11. @Gennady & @DOGASS must be fans of and from the same Clayton County GA district as Marjorie Dumbass Greene, the fire spitting racist “He” Man!!

  12. @AFairTexan said “…same Clayton County GA district as Marjorie Dumbass Greene…”

    Spoken like a true dumb texan not familiar with geography. Get acquainted with map of the State of Georgia before you make stupid posts.

  13. In Plane Sight: Drug agents searching passengers for cash at airport gates

    ‘Sgt. Fikes has been involved in the seizure of $1,163,047, according to records Atlanta News First Investigates obtained through an open records request. His department’s cut is about nine percent of that money…’

    ‘The DEA officially calls its stops and searches at airport gates, “cold consent encounters.” Passengers are free to end the discussion and walk away, according to the DEA, even if they’re unaware of those rights.’

    ‘A federal judge recently dismissed the lawsuit filed by André and English in part because he said they should have known their stops were consensual and not a detention. The men were free to go even if they felt trapped by police in the jet bridge.’

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