“F*ck the Police” Arrest Leads to $100,000 Settlement in Cobb County
(APN) ATLANTA — In the spring of 2012, Amy Barnes, a Cobb County resident and activist with Occupy Atlanta, was riding her bicycle when she saw two police officers questioning a Black man outside a convenience store. As she rode by on her bicycle, she gave them the middle finger salute and shouted “Fuck the police,” and “Police suck.”
Her response was prompted by anger at all the police harassment that she says she had witnessed in her neighborhood for years.
“The police had been shaking people down in my neighborhood for nothing at all. I’ve seen other Black men being shaken down for just standing outside,” Barnes told Atlanta Progressive News.
Instead of ignoring her free speech outburst, they chased and arrested her, and put her in the Cobb County Jail, where she stayed for 23 hours, six in solitary confinement. She was charged with disorderly conduct.
The police officers Brian Scurr and Dipa Patel claim that Barnes attempted to incite violence or was engaged in a form of physical confrontation, according to the Marietta Daily Journal newspaper. However, the evidence did not support their claim.
Barnes filed a motion to dismiss the charges, claiming the arrest violated her free speech. The dismissal was granted by State Court Judge Melodie Clayton, who concluded the officers took issue with what Ms. Barnes said and were determined to arrest her.
After the charge was dropped, Barnes filed a lawsuit alleging the Cobb County Police Department had violated her constitutional rights to free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the U.S., by unlawfully arresting her for verbally protesting while riding a bicycle on a public street.
Two years later, Cobb County has agreed to pay Barnes 100,000 dollars to settle the free speech lawsuit she brought in federal court.
“The Amy Barnes case arose because there was not sufficient training around the issue of when an officer can and cannot arrest someone because of their speech. The officers need to know that if someone is just speaking out and not disrupting an arrest, they cannot be subject to arrest,” Gerald Weber, an attorney for Barnes, told APN.
“With the Atlanta Police Department there’s some required training as a result of some lawsuits we’ve done. With other departments there is a training problem,” Weber said.
“I have been witnessing a higher level of arrests in ‘contempt of cop’ cases, where someone says something to a police officer that upset the officer,” Weber said.
Weber said that other categories where arrests are increasing are where someone is filming an arrest. During protests, people in the vicinity are arrested who may be bystanders watching or even reporters who get arrested along with everyone else.
Barnes is not the first person to sue in Cobb County over freedom of speech. In April 2009, Mary Krikendoll left a Smyrna town hall meeting and on the way out shouted “This is [expletive]!” She was arrested and jailed for two hours.
She also filed a federal lawsuit, alleging her free speech rights had been violated and was falsely imprisoned. She won 85,000 dollars. One would think Cobb County would learn that they cannot put people in jail for what they say.
Cynthia Counts was Krikendoll’s attorney and also a co-counsel in Barnes’s lawsuit.
Profanity spoke to police officers or in a public meeting may be rude and disrespectful, but it is not against the law. Sometimes it is the most appropriate expression of a situation and no should ever go to jail for speaking the truth.