A Georgia police department and one of its officers has been sued for arresting three people based on a report by a "drug recognition expert" who accused each of driving under the influence of marijuana.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed the lawsuit earlier this week in federal court in Atlanta against the Cobb County Police Department, arguing that the plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful seizures were violated.
The three plaintiffs — Katelyn Ebner, Princess Mbamara and Ayokunle Oriyomi — were falsely arrested, forced to have blood drawn and trapped in jail for hours "simply because a police officer had a hunch, based on deeply flawed drug-recognition training, that they might have been smoking marijuana," said Sean J. Young, the ACLU's legal director.
"At no point did the police officer seek to obtain a warrant or suggest that they were endangering public safety. None of the plaintiffs were under the influence of marijuana, and all tested negative for any cannabinoid metabolites," the lawsuit said.
Months later, prosecutors dismissed the charges in each case, Young said.
Ebner, 25, of Kennesaw, had no arrest record prior to this case; Mbamara, 27, is an immigrant from Lagos, Nigeria and currently a student at Atlanta Metropolitan State College; and Oriyomi, 21, of Powder Springs, is currently a student at Auburn University.
"All three plaintiffs now have public arrest records that they will have to explain to schools, landlords and employers for the rest of their lives," the lawsuit said.
A police spokesman did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
The police officer, Tracy "T.T." Carroll, is one of the department's certified drug recognition experts. He either stopped or participated in a stop of each of the plaintiffs on three separate occasions for "failing to maintain lane."
"Defendant Carroll did not perform the 12-Step DRE Protocol that was ostensibly created for the purpose of detecting whether someone has been driving under the influence of drugs. Instead he performed a watered-down version of the test" and arrested each of the plaintiffs for driving under the influence of drugs, the lawsuit said.
Carroll was never reprimanded or disciplined for failing to follow DRE Protocol or for making the arrests, the ACLU said.
"Carroll's pattern and practice of enforcing DUI-drug infractions was to arrest an individual based on nothing more than a hunch, which would be invariably ratified by the results of an ad hoc smattering of tests he administered which were divorced from any rigorous methodology and were without the foundational underpinning necessary to amount to legal justification to arrest," the lawsuit said.
"The way that Cobb County Police Officers, such as defendant Carroll, are taught to and do administer their testing for the detection of impairment by drugs is designed to make innocent behavior appear incriminating and to make exculpatory behavior appear irrelevant."
The lawsuit seeks obtain compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys' fees.