The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Returning to work from his lunch break at Underground Atlanta, James Hereford was on the wrong floor when he stepped off an elevator that also served an adjacent parking deck.
The 50-year-old man decided to take a public stairwell down to the street rather than the elevator. He had 15 minutes to walk several blocks back to work at 180 Peachtree St., the former downtown store for Macy’s where the Atlanta Police Department’s 911 call center is now located.
Instead, Hereford said an Atlanta police officer he met in the stairwell put him in handcuffs. The officer searched his pockets, opened the envelope with his pay stub in it, questioned him about having two bank debit cards, and scrolled through the calls saved on his cell phone. Then the officer took him to a nearby police precinct, where he was held for two hours on suspicion of trespassing.
“He was going through my phone,” Hereford told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. “I don’t even know the purpose of opening my pay stub. Not only was I embarrassed, he had a grip on my pants like I was going to take off running. He also had me handcuffed.”
The CRB last Thursday sustained Hereford’s allegations of false arrest and false imprisonment against the officer. The CRB said the officer should be reprimanded and that he and his sergeant, who was the first APD supervisor to review the matter, needed to be “retrained on the Fourth Amendment,” the U.S. Constitution’s protection for illegal search.
But also last week, Hereford got a totally different conclusion. APD’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS) notified him in a letter “your allegation of misconduct has been investigated. Sufficient information was gathered to prove the action of this officer was lawful, proper and within the guidelines.”
Hereford said that conclusion was met without anyone from APD contacting him after the initial complaint was filed with the officer’s sergeant last August.
“I called down there several times. These people were ignoring what was going on,” Hereford said.
It was workers at the 911 center who urged him to go to the CRB in January and to contact an attorney about six weeks ago.
“We have made a formal demand to the city of Atlanta, and if they don’t [respond], we will be suing them,” attorney Dan Grossman said. “This is another example of the way the city has handled this [complaints about police conduct] and it has increased the cost to taxpayers.”
Grossman represented eight men whom the city paid more than $1 million several months ago to settle a lawsuit filed after a 2009 police raid on the Atlanta Eagle bar in Midtown.
“If they had come out with a fair OPS report and they had disciplined this officer, James would be satisfied,” Grossman said. “James patiently waited for the Atlanta police to do the right thing.”
Hereford said he was preoccupied with a conversation with his sister and that is why he pushed the wrong button on the elevator after a quick lunch on Aug. 5. He went up instead of down.
According to his interview with the CRB, officer Grady Goggins admitted he raised a fist to Hereford in the stairwell on the seventh floor “because he was surprised by his presence in the stairwell.”
Goggins said he handcuffed Hereford because he didn’t believe Hereford's accounting for what he had been doing and why he was there. Goggins told the CRB he escorted Hereford to the mini police precinct, where he called the last number called on the cell phone to verify his story.
All the while, Hereford’s supervisor was trying to reach him, leaving messages on the cell phone voice mail asking where he was and telling him he was needed at work.
“I could tell they were getting frustrated,” Hereford said. “They wanted to know why I wasn’t back from lunch. The first call was around 12:40.”
Still, Goggins insisted to the CRB that Hereford was not under arrest. Goggins was allowed to leave after Hereford's sister returned Goggins' message to call.
The CRB said “the movement of Mr. Hereford from the garage to the police station was an arrest.”
Hereford reported back to work two hours late.
He made two return trips to the precinct that day to file a complaint, once with the head of security from his workplace.
The second time, Goggins’ sergeant said she would take a “formal complaint,” but he would have to come back. A meeting was scheduled for two weeks later, after she had returned from vacation.
Hereford said the sergeant said Goggins “was doing his job by doing what he did.”
And after taking his statement, Hereford said the sergeant asked what he wanted to happen.
“I did tell her I didn’t think anything was going to be done,” he said.