‘Cartersville 70’ students file lawsuit alleging they were strip-searched and humiliated after unlawful arrest

‘Cartersville 70’ students file lawsuit alleging they were strip-searched and humiliated after unlawful arrest

The case and the people later became known as a the “the Cartersville 70” - who believe that their constitutional rights were violated

When these 70 people, including five juveniles, were arrested for having less than an ounce of marijuana, the news of the arrest had made national headlines.  It had started out as a bunch of folks attending a house party for a birthday, and it was also New Year's Eve of 2017, in Cartersville, Ga. 



The mass arrest had sparked a bit of controversy when it was found that the majority of those arrested were black. They later became popularly known as the Cartersville 70 - who, according to the reports, were unlawfully held. According to The Daily Tribune, The group claims they were locked in cages and publicly humiliated throughout the ordeal. Now they have filed a class action suit against the city officials, and City of Cartersville, including members of the Cartersville Police Department and Bartow County Sheriff’s Office.




The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the work of law enforcement was questioned for a suspected racial bias: Of the 65 adults arrested, 50 were black. But the story of the Cartersville 70 doesn’t end there.  
Seven of those arrested on drug charges filed a federal lawsuit Monday claiming their constitutional rights were violated when officers, who said they smelled marijuana. 

The police had detained everyone present at the house - which the lawsuit claims was unwarranted and unlawful. Moreover, they were humiliated and were forced to undergo strip searches at the jail. 




“Visitors, some as young as 17 years old, were ordered to remove all of their clothing in front of two or more deputies, bend over at the waist, spread their buttocks with their hands, and cough multiple times,” the lawsuit states. “Male visitors were further ordered to lift their genitals. Once the search was over, some visitors were allowed to wear the clothes they were arrested in, while others were given jail uniforms.”  




The 70 suspects were charged with possession of less than an ounce of marijuana — charges that Bartow District Attorney Rosemary Greene dropped on Jan. 12, 2018, because of a lack of evidence.  
No charges were pressed against the group, but members of the lawsuit say the unlawful search and subsequent arrest, which was conducted without a warrant, triggered a “domino effect” that upended their lives.  




According to the Appeal, citing police reports, the incident began early on the morning of December 31, 2017, when Cartersville police officer Joshua Coker was “responding to a report of gunfire in the area.” Driving by the house party residence, Coker claimed he smelled marijuana—despite having his windows rolled up. 

This is what the appeal reads: 

"He then saw four men in front of the home where Guider and others had gathered. Coker requested two other officers in the area join him.

The officers asked the men what was occurring inside; they explained it was a party. The officers then entered the home and announced everyone was being detained, according to police testimony. The majority of the guests were in their late teens or early 20s, according to booking reports."




The DA met with NAACP leaders prior to her decision. 

“It’s simply not possible for 70 people to possess the same alleged small amount of marijuana,” attorney Gerald Griggs, speaking on behalf of the Georgia NAACP, said following the arrests.  

“These people’s lives were turned completely upside down,” Gerald Weber, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, said Monday. “It was a complete nightmare for them.”  




The Cartersville Police Department’s policies included “warrant-less entries” into homes based only on the smell of marijuana, the lawsuit states. Plus, officers detained everyone in the location while conducting a criminal investigation. Both of those policies are illegal, Weber said. There were no individual interviews conducted in the home. 




The seven plaintiffs, all in their early 20s, contend that the arrests and media attention caused them to lose jobs and affected their military careers, and they are seeking damages and a jury trial. 
The city of Cartersville and 31 other defendants, including various police officers and Bartow deputies, are named in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Rome. 




“Upon arriving at the jail, Plaintiffs and other putative class members were stripped-searched in front of multiple officers and held in crowded holding tanks for 1-3 days without access to phones, the courts, or counsel,” the complaint reads. “Jail staff placed signs on the holding cell windows that read ‘THE PARTY CREW.’” 

Nija Guider, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said she also lost her job as a result of the mass arrest. It took her two and half months to find a new job, during which time she had to go to food pantries in order to feed her 1-year-old son.

Speaking to Fox 5 Atlanta in January, Guider said, “When it comes down to it, you can’t undo the arrest. The domino effect, you can’t undo.” 

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