Members of the “the Cartersville 70”—the dozens of young people who were arrested at a 2017 house party in Cartervsille, Ga., for what turned out to be less than an ounce of marijuana—are filing a suit against city officials, claiming the search and mass arrest violated their constitutional rights.
No charges were pressed against the group, but members of the lawsuit say the unlawful search and subsequent arrest, which was conducted without a warrant, triggered a “domino effect” that upended their lives. The complaint was filed on Monday against the city of Cartersville, along with members of the Cartersville Police Department, Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force, and Bartow County sheriff’s office, the Appeal reports.
According to the Appeal, citing police reports, the incident began early on the morning of December 31, 2017, when Cartersville police officer Joshua Coker was “responding to a report of gunfire in the area.” Driving by the house party residence, Coker claimed he smelled marijuana—despite having his windows rolled up.
From the Appeal:
He then saw four men in front of the home where Guider and others had gathered. Coker requested two other officers in the area join him.
The officers asked the men what was occurring inside; they explained it was a party. The officers then entered the home and announced everyone was being detained, according to police testimony. The majority of the guests were in their late teens or early 20s, according to booking reports.
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Coker didn’t have permission to enter the home, and a search warrant wasn’t signed until shortly after 4 a.m.—about two hours after police first arrived on the scene. Of the 70 people arrested that night, more than 50 were black.
The complaint further alleges that once the group was arrested, Cartersville officers treated them inhumanely.
“Upon arriving at the jail, Plaintiffs and other putative class members were stripped-searched in front of multiple officers and held in crowded holding tanks for 1-3 days without access to phones, the courts, or counsel,” the complaint reads. “Jail staff placed signs on the holding cell windows that read ‘THE PARTY CREW.’”
The suit also alleges some of the detainees were denied medical care, including one person who suffered seizures. Even after alerting a nurse of her condition, she wasn’t given her anti-seizure medication until the third day of her detention. A pregnant detainee was denied her prenatal pills. When she “vomited repeatedly in a holding cell garbage can,” the suit says, she received no care.
“Those who complained about their treatment were either threatened with Tasers or taken to small isolation cells with padded walls and concrete floors, and no bed or place to sit,” the complaint adds. People taken to the isolation cells were held there about five to seven hours.
Within a day of being arrested, mugshots of the Cartersville 70 had made it onto the news.
The district attorney’s office ended up dropping charges against almost the entire group. One charge of possession against a partygoer was dropped by a judge who found the search at the house-party to be unconstitutional.
But, as the plaintiffs and their attorneys note, the ordeal wasn’t over for them once they posted bond, or even when the charges against them were dismissed. Several lost their jobs as a result of the arrest—some were unable to contact their employers and missed work, others say their employers cited seeing their mugshots on the news. One partygoer lost his new job at a window supply company and had to switch careers. He’s now a truck driver. Another person detained that night, a high school senior with hopes to play ball in college on a scholarship, was kicked off his school’s team because of the high-profile arrest.
Nija Guider, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said she also lost her job as a result of the mass arrest. It took her two and half months to find a new job, during which time she had to go to food pantries in order to feed her 1-year-old son.
Speaking to Fox 5 Atlanta in January, Guider said, “When it comes down to it, you can’t undo the arrest. The domino effect, you can’t undo.”