Police incident with actor at Atlanta airport brings light to rights you have when you fly

ATLANTA — A comedian claims he was racially profiled by police at Atlanta’s airport and while police assure us that didn’t happen, Channel 2 Action News has learned many people aren’t sure what their rights are at the airport.

Every time you walk into an airport, you lose many of your privacy rights because maintaining safety is the top priority for the law enforcement agencies that oversee the airport.

Jackie Patterson is a local attorney who used to be a police chief and a judge. He told Channel 2′s Tyisha Fernandes that he understands the law from many different perspectives.

“Your whole life can be turned upside down even if there’s no reasonable suspicion to take your bag,” Patterson said.

He said privacy while traveling is extremely limited.

“If you’re in an airport, you can expect to have your bags sniffed by a dog without any issue whatsoever and if that dog alerts, they’re going in that bag,” Patterson said.

But when there’s not a drug sniffing dog, things can get tricky -- like they did for Andre.

The comedian said he was traveling from Atlanta to Los Angeles Wednesday when he said two undercover officers asked to search his bag as he was boarding the plane.

Andre said he told them no because they only harassed him because he’s a Black man and was the only person of color on the jetway at the time.

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Clayton County police say it wasn’t racial profiling, it was a random search supported by state law and the constitution.

They also said Andre gave them permission to search his bag and they just decided not to.

Patterson said you can always say no to a search and fight it out in court.

“If a person is arrested because of say they get caught with drugs and if his defense attorney can prove that there was no reasonable suspicion to even detain him, the judge would throw out the drugs and he would be free,” Patterson said.

Fernandes contacted Andre through Twitter on Thursday. Although he liked her tweet saying we would get to the bottom of this, he declined an interview.

Clayton County police released a new statement Thursday about the arrest, saying:

“On April 21, 2021, the Clayton County Police Department had such an encounter with Mr. Eric Andre, as he was preparing to fly to California from the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. This type of interaction occurs frequently during our officers’ course of duties, and is supported by Georgia Law and the U.S. Constitution.

“I would like to clearly state that, Mr. Andre was never detained by our officers. Preliminary findings have revealed that Mr. Andre agreed to speak with our officers, and the conversation was pleasant. Mr. Andre provided the officers with information regarding his reasons for travel. During the course of their conversation; Mr. Andre was asked if he would consent to a search of his belongings. Mr. Andre did give our officers consent to search his belongings, but instead, the officers chose not to do so, because they made the determination that the interaction did not warrant further inquiry.

“At the conclusion of the encounter, pleasantries were exchanged between our officers and Mr. Andre, and Mr. Andre continued on his way. The interaction between Mr. Andre and our officers lasted for approximately 2 to 3 minutes, and he was able to make his normally scheduled flight on time. I would like to reiterate that Mr. Andre was never placed in handcuffs or detained at any point during their interaction. I also, want to share that the Clayton County Police Departments Standard Operating Procedures prohibits selection of individuals based solely on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, economic status, age, cultural group, or any other identifiable groups in which a person belongs.

“Our preliminary findings have revealed that Mr. Andre was not racially profiled. Our inquiries have revealed that Mr. Andre was cordial, personable and pleasant to speak with. According to 2 our records this was the first and only interaction between the Clayton County Police Department and Mr. Andre.”