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2017 Mass Arrests Stemming from Illegal Search During House Party with Mostly Black Guests, Ends with Nearly $1M Settlement: ‘No One Has Actually … Apologized’

A Georgia city must pay nearly $1 million to 44 people after it was proven they were wrongfully arrested, but one of the victims said it’s not sufficient.

Court documents show the police department violated the group’s basic and constitutional rights. Deja Heard said the police department owes them an apology for the inhumane and unfair treatment. She also wants to see systemic changes in policing.

Part of a group of partygoers wrongly arrested by Cartersville Police in 2017. (Screenshot/WSB-TV)

“It’s an issue not just with Blacks. I feel like this is an issue with everyone in my community with corrupt police,” Heard told WSB-TV.

Heard’s 21st birthday party in December 2017, made national headlines after police arrested 65 people at the party because less than an ounce of marijuana was discovered. Everyone was charged with possession.

Heard was celebrating with 70 of her friends in a rental home in Cartersville, Georgia, when officers entered without a warrant. Fifty of the 70 people detained were Black. The police questioned everyone at the party, but no one owned up to the illicit drug.

Cartersville Police officers then decided to arrest all adults at the party. Most of them were in their early 20s. They were detained without access to food and water, stripped searched, denied medication and humiliated. Attorneys also found that the authorities violated the group’s civil rights.

Some of the partygoers filed a class-action suit against Cartersville and dozens of the employees at the Cartersville Police Department. The arrests also had long-term effects on their livelihoods and reputations. Bartow County posted mugshots on the jail website.

Many lost their jobs and chances of educational or social advancement.

“No matter what I do with my career path, this is going to come up. I don’t think that will ever change,” Andrea Lopez said. “I should feel confident, but this situation still haunts me. It’s still affecting me and others today with big opportunities in our life- not just job-wise… I’m grateful for the amount we were able to get, but I would give that back in a heartbeat if I could take time back and avoid that entire situation from happening.”

Keylon Woodard’s plan to enlist in the military was delayed because of the arrest. Eutychus Wilson, a high school senior at the time, was no longer allowed to practice with his school’s basketball team, eliminating his chances of getting a basketball scholarship.

“These people’s lives were turned completely upside down,” Gerald Weber, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, said after filing the lawsuit. “It was a complete nightmare for them.”

One of the officers said he was riding by the house party while on his way to respond to a report of gunshots at an apartment building nearby when he smelled marijuana. The officers detained half of the crowd outside where, according to court documents, it was 20 to 30 degrees.

The partygoers were detained for questioning there for more than two hours, court documents show, during which time they were prohibited from moving.

“I literally was in shackles from my arms, and they were tied around my ankles as well — it was very traumatic,” Heard said.

All of the party guests, including juveniles as young as 17, were all patted down and searched at the house. They also faced more extensive strip searches in jail, according to court documents. The police did not find any additional drugs or paraphernalia. One partygoer urinated on herself after she was denied access to the restroom.

“Just piss on yourself,” one of the officers said, according to court documents.

Once at the jail, the humiliation continued. Court documents show the 65 young people stayed in overcrowded cells without a heating system between one to two days, with a sign that said “THE PARTY CREW.” Some of those who complained were placed in solidarity confinement. Attorneys said the group had no access to “phones, courts or counsel.”

Attorneys said one person with diabetes was given the wrong dosage of insulin, which worsened his condition. A pregnant woman in the group was denied prenatal vitamins and care, and a person who suffered from seizures did not get medicine until the third day.

The drug possession charges against 64 of the detainees were dropped 12 days later when a local district attorney concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the charges. The charges against one person were dropped later after a judge ruled that police illegally entered the home.

When word of the illegal mass arrest spread on social media, the entire group was dubbed the “Cartersville 70.”

Cartersville awarded most of the group $900,000 in a lawsuit settlement on March 8. NAACP’s Gerald Griggs said he hopes the settlement will be a learning lesson.

“It’s a very large settlement, so it sends a message to Georgia that if you violate somebody’s civil rights, the NAACP and civil rights attorneys will hold you to task and protect those young peoples’ rights,” Griggs said.

Still, Heard said she is holding on for an apology.

“It’s okay to be wrong sometimes. And we’re all human, we all make mistakes. Just going forward, correct yourselves. Apologize. I mean, yes, a settlement, like I said I’m very greatly appreciative of it, but no one has actually sat down and said that we apologize for being in the wrong, we’re sorry for what we did to you, we’re sorry for treating you inhumane,” Heard said.

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