Court: $1.5M to transgender woman for 'bogus' cocaine arrest in Atlanta
A Black transgender woman is due $1.5 million for the “seemingly bogus” cocaine trafficking charge which kept her jailed for months in 2015 after Atlanta police officers arrested her for allegedly jaywalking, a federal judge has ruled.
Judge William Ray II awarded the money to Ju’Zema Goldring on Thursday, two days after a jury found that officer Vladimir Henry should pay that amount, online federal district court records show.
“She spent nearly 6 months in the Fulton County jail based on this seemingly bogus charge,” Ray wrote.
He also chastised the Atlanta Police Department for arresting anyone at all for jaywalking, and for using a point system to track officers’ actions. That system “may create perverse incentives for officers” to arrest people, because arrests count for more points than citations, Ray wrote.
City spokesperson Michael Smith said the city had no immediate comment. The Associated Press had asked whether Atlanta will pay or appeal, and whether police still use a points system or arrest people for jaywalking.
Kasim Reed was mayor when Goldring was arrested in October 2015 and released the following March.
“It should not have taken seven years and a federal jury trial to bring this to light,” attorney Jeff Filipovits said in a news release. “It’s terrifying to think what other abuses the City of Atlanta has tolerated that haven’t gotten our attention. Our client was obviously profiled, as are so many others.”
Jurors found that Goldring proved that Henry had maliciously prosecuted the cocaine charge but not that the jaywalking charge was brought maliciously. They found that she had not proved either allegation against a second officer.
The jury said the money was to compensate Goldring for harm. It did not order punitive damages.
Although the city was not a defendant, the City Council regularly pays for judgments and settlements involving police officers, Goldring’s attorneys said.
“We are not aware of any circumstance in which the City has refused to indemnify a police officer in the past, and the City routinely pays settlements on behalf of officers who are sued in their individual capacity,” Filipovits, Miguel A. Dominguez, and Zack Greenamyre wrote in an emailed statement.
Goldring’s lawsuit, filed in March 2018, said she was targeted for the low-level jaywalking arrest on Oct. 10, 2015, because she “was apparently transgender and homeless.”
Henry cut open a stress ball he found in her purse and brought the cocaine charge even though two field tests on the “sand” inside it were negative, the lawsuit said. Goldring was indicted on a felony cocaine charge Oct. 23, 2015.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation found the stress ball cocaine-free on Nov. 17, 2015, the lawsuit said, but Goldring was not released until March 22, 2016, the day after charges against her were dropped.
Ray wrote that he was troubled by jaywalking arrests because they can disrupt people’s lives, take time that “arguably could be better spent on more pressing activities, such as addressing violent crimes,” and could allow arrests “as a pretext for discrimination.”
McConnaughey reported from New Orleans.