Cartersville, GA — House parties among teenagers and young adults are a part of growing up. When kids experience freedom from their parents for the first time, they will often make poor choices and this is a part of experiencing life so one can learn. Poor choices that cause harm to others are certainly not acceptable but when young people are experimenting with substances and make choices which have no victims, they should never have to worry about their lives being ruined over it. Unfortunately, for 65 young people in Cartersville, Georgia, they had no say in the matter when cops arrested all of them — despite none of them making any poor choices.
The nightmare for these 65 teenagers and young folks started back in 2017 as they gathered at a home to celebrate the New Year. As is common on New Year's Eve, firecrackers can be heard going off all around town. Thought none of the teens involved in this party were popping fireworks, police used it as a reason to enter the home, without a warrant, claiming they heard gun shots.
When police came to the door that night, they had no evidence of a crime being committed, nor did they have reasonable suspicion. Nevertheless, they barged into the legally rented Airbnb, paid for by 21-year-old Deja Heard, who was celebrating her 21st birthday that night.
Officers had no warrant as the shut down the entire party and searched everyone. The only evidence of a crime — which is not a crime at all — was claimed when police found a small bag of weed in the front yard.
Because no one wanted to go to jail over a plant, no one fessed up, or perhaps the person who dropped it, left the party. Regardless, the solution proposed by the officers that night was to arrest everyone and charge them all with possession of marijuana. And they did exactly that.
These teens and young adults were then hauled off to jail, booked into the Bartow County lockup and shackled — for a small bag of weed found outside on the ground.
“I literally was in shackles from my arms, and they were tied around my ankles as well — it was very traumatic,” said Heard.
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They were all subsequently charged and booked into the criminal justice system for the non-crime of a single individual. While most of the people there were black, Heard says the problem is bigger than just racism, it's the corrupt police state in general that's the problem.
“It’s an issue not just with Blacks. I feel like this is an issue with everyone in my community with corrupt police,” Heard said.
Four years after this gross violation of rights, prosecutors are finally admitting that the teens were targeted and a local judge agreed. Since the incident the group filed a lawsuit against the police department and it settled this week for nearly $1 million — around $15,000 per attendee.
“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,” said Gerald Griggs with the NAACP.
When contacted by WSB-TV for a comment on the ridiculous police overreach and the settlement, Cartersville police responded with a one-line statement saying they will continue to honor the 4th Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches. This settlement proves otherwise.
As for Heard and the others, they say the money is fine and all but they would just like an apology.
“It’s OK 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.