Woman, 61, arrested for asking ‘why’

From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Four women, two of them well into middle age, were discussing funeral plans for a friend when an Atlanta police officer told them to move.

Three did but one asked “why.” In answer to her question,  Minnie Carey, then 61, was handcuffed, put into a police wagon and taken to jail, where she was held for nine hours.

The Citizen Review Board found that Atlanta Police officer Brandy Dolson had violated APD policies and had falsely arrested Carey.

“I was blown away,” Carey told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I had heard about people in the community being harassed by the police … It really didn’t shock me as much as it probably would have if I had not heard of people going to jail for no reason. I figured I was just another one.

“But I had the right to ask ‘why’ I had to move,” she said.

The Citizen Review Board – resurrected after the 2006 fatal police shooting of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in her home – voted in a recent meeting to sustain Carey’s false arrest claim and the allegation that the officer had violated the department’s arrest policies.

“This case will illustrate to the public how OPS [Office of Professional Standards] responds [to allegations of police misconduct] … There have been some concerns that OPS has not sustained complaints,” said Seth Kirschenbaum, an attorney who is vice-chairman of the board.

“We know, historically, OPS investigations drag on,” said another board member, Sharese Shields.

Still, the board held back on its punishment recommendation to APD until the board’s investigator could gather more information about Dolson’s history with the department, how many public complaints had been filed against him, what kind of complaints have been brought and the outcome of those cases.

Kirschenbaum said in a hearing last week at least 18 complaints had been filed against Dolson since 2001, but only three – all those traffic issues – had been sustained while three other complaints are pending.

Dolson appeared when the Citizen Review Board called him for an interview last year, but he refused to answer questions. The police union has told all APD officers that the department’s policy only requires that they show up when the Citizen Review Board calls, but they don’t have to answer questions because they may not be protected from criminal charges.

Dolson, reached at his home Wednesday, declined to comment.  APD spokesman Lt. Curtis Davenport said Dolson is “suspended without pay for an unrelated incident.”

Davenport also said the OPS case had been returned to Zone 5 with questions so the internal affairs case remains pending. APD’s Office of Professional Standards has not contacted Carey since her initial interview last summer, five months after the incident, she said.

“What we have here is an abuse of power. He abused his power of having a badge and a gun,” said Kirschenbaum. “That [now] 62-year-old woman got handcuffed, put in a paddy wagon and held in jail for nine hours.”

Carey’s only offense,  Kirschenbaum said, was that she “was more boisterous than they would have liked when she asked ‘why’…  It was just the police wanted these people to move. That [talking on the sidewalk] appears to be the only thing  these ladies were doing. There’s no basis to arrest someone for talking loudly.”

Carey and one of the women who was with her that afternoon said Carey was not loud.

The accounts provided by Carey, Dolson,  Dolson’s partner and witnesses are essentially the same, according to records.

Carey met three friends on the sidewalk outside the Boulevard Lotto convenience store mid-afternoon last March 26, and for a few moments they talked about upcoming services for a friend who had died after she was hit by a car in front of the store where they were standing.

Dolson and his partner pulled up and told the four women to “move it.”

All agreed that the women were not blocking the sidewalk and that the women were the only people on the sidewalk.

Three women started walking away but Carey didn’t, asking “why” instead.

An account given by Dolson’s partner, Jamie Nelson,  was that Carey “yelled ‘why’ with a loud manner and refused to leave after we instructed her several times to do so.”

Carey and one of the women with her, 56-year-old Diane Ward, told the AJC there was no shouting.

All the same, Dolson’s answer to Carey’s question was “because I said so,” according to the file.

“I’m a citizen and I’m a taxpayer and I have a right to be here. I’m merely trying to find out about a sister’s funeral,” Carey responded, according to records.

That’s when Carey was handcuffed, her hands behind her back, and put into the back of the patrol car – the only time she has been arrested in the 15 years she has lived in Atlanta.

Forty-five minutes later she was moved to a police van with the doors closed despite the heat, where she waited another 45 minutes with others accused of violating city ordinances.

“I was very upset and very angry. Here I am being treated as if I’m not a human, not a citizen of this country,” Carey said in an interview. “I was in this little hot box. There was no air. I was perspiring so much my glasses were sliding off my face.”

On her signature, Carey was released from the city jail around 12:30 a.m. the next day. She took a taxi home to her apartment on Boulevard.

Carey, a diabetic, had gone without food until she got home hours later. She said the handcuffs caused her hands to swell.

Carey had three court dates – the first time her case was not heard because there was no prosecutor and the second and third times it was not heard because Dolson was not in court.

The disorderly conduct charge was dismissed at the third court hearing, she said.

“I had heard about people in the community being harassed by the police,” Carey said. “A neighbor of mine went to jail for sitting on her sister’s car. It was racial profiling because of the community.”

Davenport, the APD spokesman, said it is against departmental policy “to do any sort of racial profiling and any employee doing so will be disciplined to the fullest.” Dolson, the officer who arrested Carey, is black.

Carey said, however, that patrol officers — regardless of their race — seem to focus on her neighborhood, and others have had experiences similar to hers.

“It was horrible. It was absolutely horrible,” Carey said. “I couldn’t believe you could just pick people up off the street. It’s a constant problem with the police over here.”

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