Overzealous Cops Cost Atlanta $40,000 for Seizing Video

9:24 PM, Feb 11, 2011   |    comments
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  • Marlon Kautz of Copwatch of East Atlanta wins $40,000 settlement after police seize video.
  • Freeze frame from partially destroyed police video taken by Marlon Kautz.

ATLANTA -- An East Atlanta man is about to be $40,000 richer thanks to some overzealous police officers.

"Police accountability is really an important issue to a lot of people right now," Marlon Kautz told 11Alive News.

He believes that so strongly that he is part of Copwatch of East Atlanta, a branch of a 20-year-old watchdog group founded in Berkeley, California.

They're activists who go out of their way to shoot video of police officers making arrests in case they witness abuse.

Most of the time, they don't see any misconduct.

Ironically, Kautz didn't see any either when he came upon some Atlanta officers arresting someone on Euclid Avenue in Little 5 Points last April.

But those officers told Kautz to quit taping them with his cell phone, and he refused.

"Eventually they twisted my arm behind my back and basically tried to pry the phone out of my hands and eventually they did," he said.

The officers didn't arrest Kautz, but they confiscated his cell phone and put it in an evidence envelope in connection with the unrelated arrest he was taping.

After suing the city, he got his cell phone back, but the video had been damaged and partially erased.

The city agreed to pay him and his organization a $40,000 settlement and retrain officers about the law.

"If you stand back away from the officers and you're in a public place, you have an absolute right under 11th Circuit [Court of Appeals] law to photograph or video [tape] those officers," said Dan Grossman, one of Kautz's attorneys.

The Atlanta Police Department e-mailed 11Alive News a written statement acknowledging the settlement.

It said two of the officers involved were disciplined with "oral admonishments for failing to take appropriate actions" and a third officer "for failure to supervise."

Meanwhile, Atlanta's Citizen Review Board recommended the officer who confiscated the phone be given four days suspension without pay.

No word yet if the police department will follow that recommendation.

The Atlanta City Council must still formally approve the settlement.

When asked what his group will do with the $40,000, Kautz said they'd probably use it to buy more video equipment and train volunteers in their cause.

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