By: Thandisizwe Chimurenga

COLUMBUS, GA – There was a song written a few decades ago called “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Depending on who you talk to, he’s still there, hanging out in Columbus, Georgia. That’s the city where women who call 911 to report incidents of domestic violence can receive a fine if they decline to prosecute their alleged abusers. The Southern Center for Human Rights has brought a lawsuit against the city and several key individuals on behalf of a number of women who say this has happened to them. The lead plaintiff is 23-year old Cleopatra Harrison, whose assault happened in June, 2016:

Harris’ boyfriend became angry June 9 over dirty dishes left in the kitchen sink and threw her to the floor, grabbed her neck and punched her, the lawsuit says. After he left, she called 911 but went to a friend’s apartment before officers arrived because she feared he would come back. Her friend urged her to call 911 again the next morning.

Harris told officers what had happened and they photographed her injuries, the lawsuit says. The police report notes dark bruises on her neck, swelling on her forehead and scratches on her chest and the back of her neck. Harris told officers she didn’t want to press charges, and the officers told her she would still need to appear in court, the lawsuit says.

At a court hearing June 14, Lincoln described Harris’ injuries and the statements she had made. Columbus Recorder’s Court Chief Judge Michael Cielinski asked if what the officer said was true and Harris said yes.

The judge then asked if she had anything else to say. When she told him she didn’t wish to press charges, he asked Lincoln how much time he’d spent on the case and then told Harris there would be a $150 fee since she wanted to dismiss the case, the lawsuit says.

Harris told a court clerk she couldn’t pay the fee that same day. She was informed that she had one week to pay or a warrant for her arrest would be issued. But before she could even leave the courthouse she was arrested—by the very same officer who had investigated her alleged assault—and charged with “providing false information to a law enforcement officer.” She was bailed out of jail by her abuser-boyfriend.

It is an unfortunate yet common practice for women to change their minds about pressing charges against their alleged abusers. Fear of further abuse is a common reason, other times the women are financially dependent on their abusers and their absence due to incarceration would cause undue hardship. It is also unfortunate that the City of Columbus doesn’t take that into consideration when they assess fees—ranging from $50 to $200—against women who don’t want to prosecute.

There are three other women in addition to Cleopatra Harrison who are named in SCHR’s lawsuit. You can read the brief here.

Article Source: GA city charging 911 domestic violence victims if there’s no follow-through