A lawsuit alleges that police stopped Eric Andre as he boarded a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles in April 2021, which also happened to another black comedian at the same location a few months earlier. The same thing.
Andre and his comedian Clayton English sued, claiming the suspension was the result of racial profiling.
“The police came out, almost like an ambush, and started picking me out. I was the only person of color on the Jet Bridge at the time,” Andrei said at a news conference on Tuesday.
“They singled me out. They asked me if I was selling drugs, delivering drugs, what drugs I had on me,” he said.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday by Andre and English alleges that the stop was part of an anti-drug-trafficking program implemented by the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport that unfairly targeted black pilots.
“It was clearly racial profiling. The experience was humiliating, inhuman, degrading, and I had all the other passengers crowded around me on this claustrophobic jet bridge staring like I was a perpetrator Look at me,” Andrei said.
In October 2020, police stopped English on a flight also bound for Los Angeles.
CNN has reached out to the police department and the Atlanta Department of Aviation for comment.
“When I was almost on the plane, two officers popped up on the jet bridge, showed their badges and started asking me if I had illegal drugs like cocaine, I felt cornered on the jet bridge, I felt complied, “English was spoken at the press conference.
Clayton County police have denied any wrongdoing following the incident involving Andre, CNN affiliate WSB-TV reported.
The station issued this statement, which was then released by the police:
“On April 21, 2021, the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department consensually encountered a male traveler, later identified as Eric Andre, as he was preparing to fly from Atlanta Airport to California. Mr. Andre chose to speak to investigators during the initial encounter. When they met, Mr. Andre volunteered to provide investigators with information about his travel plans.
“Mr. Andre also voluntarily agreed to search his luggage, but investigators chose not to do so. Investigators determined there was no reason to continue the conversation and terminated the meeting. Mr. Andre boarded without being detained The DEA and the Atlanta Police Department did not facilitate this consensual meeting.”
The lawsuit alleges that the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department described the Jet Bridge Intercept program as a “consensual encounter” conducted “randomly” but argued that in the post-9/11 flight environment, there was a “consensual” encounter between airports and law enforcement. Encounters that are unlikely are considered non-essential.
The pair named multiple members of the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department in the lawsuit, and allege the department conducted these stops and searches in a way that targeted black passengers. The document cites Clayton County Sheriff’s Department records showing that 56 percent of the passengers (or 378 people whose races were listed) stopped in this way were black.
“The Clayton County Sheriff’s Department, in conjunction with the County District Attorney’s Office, sometimes intercepts passengers on the bridge as they get on the plane, asking them if they have drugs on them,” Barry Friedman, attorney for the plaintiffs, told a news conference Say.
“It wasn’t a very successful interception program,” Friedman said. Clayton County Sheriff’s Department records show that from August 2020 to April 2021, there were only three seizures at 402 Jet Bridge stops, the lawsuit said.
“They came up with very few drugs, but they took a lot of cash from passengers,” Friedman said. The lawsuit documents say the jet bridge project is “economically profitable.”
“During the eight-month period under discussion, the program resulted in the forfeiture of $1,036,890.35 in cash and money orders through 25 civil asset forfeitures,” the filing reads.
Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize property they claim is related to a crime. Organizations like the ACLU have criticized it as a legal way for police to steal from civilians, because it’s notoriously difficult to get property after it’s been confiscated.
“However, of the 25 passengers whose cash was seized, 24 were allowed to continue travelling, often on the same flight, and only two were charged with any related offences.”
“The Clayton County Sheriff’s Department described the program as an anti-drug program. To what we can see by simply looking at the public record information we received, this appears to be a clearly unsuccessful drug interception program, if so ,” Richard Dean, another member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, said at a news conference.
“What seems to be happening is that it’s mostly about taking money from people and hopefully they won’t ask for those funds later,” he said.
Andre called the experience “distressing”.
“When two police officers stop you, you feel like you have no right to leave, especially when they start questioning you about drugs. The whole experience was distressing. I felt demeaned,” he said. “I want to use my resources and platform to bring this event to national attention and make it stop.”