The City of Atlanta and its police department are still dealing with the legal aftermath of last summer’s demonstrations of anti-police brutality protests. The latest lawsuit was filed by a woman, Amber Jackson, who claims officers body-slammed her to the ground, breaking her collarbone, just outside of Lenox Square mall.
The moment was captured on video by bystander Heather Upham, and local news outlets, during the first night of George Floyd protests — Floyd was killed during a police arrest four days prior in Minneapolis — that swept across the metro area on May 29, 2020. Demonstrations broke out earlier that afternoon in downtown Atlanta, but as night fell, protesters trekked north across the city to the upscale Buckhead district, where chaos and looting ensued.
In an effort to block protesters from moving throughout the area, police placed several barricades along Peachtree Road, where Lenox Square is located, and parking lots to surrounding shopping centers like the high-end retail destination Phipps Plaza.
Jackson, 25, claims she was attempting to move a police barricade to gain entry to her vehicle when she encountered Atlanta Police Officers Cody Swanger and Jeremiah Brandt at about 12:30 a.m. on the morning of May 30.
Officer Swanger is accused of pulling Jackson from her vehicle and throwing her the ground. The officers then searched her vehicle, which showed no evidence of Jackson or her boyfriend looting, and charged her with disorderly conduct.
“Without this video, this would have been swept under the rug,” said Jackson’s Attorney Mawuli Davis during a June 25 press conference.
According to her legal claim, Jackson, who works as a dental hygienist, suffered two breaks in her collarbone and had to undergo surgery. As a result, she was unable to work for several months. However, unlike Jackson, both officers remained employed with little to no disruption to their schedule. APD says Swanger was suspended for two days and received a written reprimand. Brandt received two written reprimands. Neither Jackson, her attorneys or Upham believe the officers’ punishment was sufficient.
“This is exactly why we’re protesting. She could’ve been the next George Floyd,” Upham told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“She had done nothing wrong, but what we see time and again … the default mechanism to lie,” said Harold Spence, another of Jackson’s attorneys. “When you have video that lie had a temporary lifespan.”
An APD spokesperson says the police encounter only escalated when Jackson refused to follow officer commands to exit her vehicle. “During her effort to resist the arrest, the officer had to force her to the ground to get her in handcuffs.”
However, Jackson’s attorney argue in the suit that neither Officer Swanger or Brandt had justification to pull their client over, nor to forcibly pull her from the vehicle.
Maluwi also represents Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim. The college students filed a suit this month against the city, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and six APD officers. Pilgrim and Young were tased, pulled from their vehicle and arrested in a curfew-restricted zone in downtown Atlanta during last summer’s protest.