- Comedians Eric André and Clayton English are suing the Clayton County Police Department.
- They argue they were victims of “racial profiling” after they were searched at an Atlanta airport.
- It “was the most blatant” experience with racial profiling, André wrote in a Daily Beast op-ed.
Comedians Eric André and Clayton English filed a lawsuit against the Clayton County Police Department on Tuesday, October 11, after they said they were subjected to drug searches at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia.
André and English, both of whom are Black, argue in the suit that their constitutional rights were violated through “racial profiling and coercive stops.”
“This was not my first experience with racial profiling. It wasn’t even my first experience with racial profiling in an airport,” André wrote in a recent opinion column for The Daily Beast. “But it was the most blatant. And the encounter has stuck with me ever since.”
According to the suit, André was selected for a drug search by plainclothes officers on April 21, 2021, while walking on the jet bridge — the pathway to the airplane that passengers walk through after going through Transportation Security Administration screening and gate check — for his flight to Los Angeles.
Similarly, English said he was stopped at the jet bridge while boarding a flight to Los Angeles by two police officers on October 30, 2020. Neither was charged with a crime and the comedians were free to board their flights after several minutes of questioning.
A Clayton County Police Department public information officer declined to comment on pending litigation.
The suit argues that, in both instances, the comedians were “unconstitutionally singled out because of their race” and that neither men “committed any crime nor engaged in any suspicious activity.”
“Mr. André did not see any other Black passengers boarding with this group,” the suit claims. In both cases, the suit described the experiences as “humiliating.”
During the five-minute encounter, when the officers asked a series of questions about whether he was carrying certain drugs, André wrote in The Daily Beast that (white) passengers “were forced to shimmy around me.”
“They gawked while doing so — after all, I must have done something to deserve all the police attention. I boarded the plane utterly humiliated, and angry,” he wrote.
One officer told André that the search was “random” and the questions were “protocol,” the lawsuit stated. Of the encounters, André and English said they believed they were not allowed to say no to the stop.
The lawsuit also scrutinizes this specific police protocol, which is referenced in the court documents as the “jet bridge interdiction program.”
It argues that the searches are anything but “consensual encounters” or “random” and that the program is designed to be “coercive” and disproportionately targets Black passengers.
According to the suit, “armed CCPD officers and Clayton County District Attorney’s Office … investigators” wait in jet bridges to “selectively intercept passengers, take their boarding passes and identifications, interrogate them before they board their flights, and search their carry-on luggage, all in the name of combating drug trafficking.”
Between August 30, 2020, to April 30, 2021, a timeframe that covers the searches of the comedians, Clayton County Police Department records show that 402 jet bridge stops were conducted and resulted in three seizures, the lawsuit states.
“Roughly 10 grams (less than the weight of one AAA alkaline battery) of drugs from one passenger, 26 grams (the weight of about 4 grapes) of ‘suspected THC gummies’ from another, and 6 prescription pills (for which no valid prescription allegedly existed) from a third,” the lawsuit said. “Only two of the passengers (those who possessed the roughly 10 grams of drugs and the pills) were charged with a crime.”
During the same time period, the police department recorded the race of passengers for 378 stops, per the lawsuit. Of those stops, about 56% of passengers were Black and 68% were people of color.
André previously wrote about the experience on Twitter last year and described the encounter as harassment.
—Eric Andre (@ericandre) April 22, 2021
In a statement last year, Clayton County Police said “this type of interaction occurs frequently during our officers’ course of duties and is supported by Georgia Law and the US Constitution.”
Officer Aubriel Stroud also told a local news outlet that André was never detained and that “Mr. Andre agreed to speak with our officers, and the conversation was pleasant.”
André and English have sought representation in their case from two Georgia lawyers and attorneys from the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law.
“Our mission is assuring policing is guided on the front end by policies and protocols that narrow discretion,” Barry Friedman, an attorney and professor at the university, wrote to Insider. “Without clear policy, preferably with democratic imprimatur, things go wrong. Unguided discretion leads to discrimination, which is what we have here. Our goal is to see that constitutional law governing policing not tolerate the sort of unjustified seizures and racial discrimination we have in Mr. André’s and Mr. Clayton’s case.”