Woman claims officer racially profiled her; police launch investigation

On Nov. 15, records show Cumming Police responded to Market Place Boulevard after several 911 calls about a car accident.

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Cumming Police have launched an internal investigation into an officer after a Chamblee woman filed a complaint claiming an officer racially profiled her and violated her civil rights.

On Nov. 15, records show Cumming Police responded to Market Place Boulevard after several 911 calls about a car accident.

"There was a really bad, really bad accident," one caller can be heard saying in 911 calls provided to Channel 2's Mike Petchenik by the woman and her attorney.

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Other callers referenced seeing three vehicles collide, including a Lexus SUV, a gray BMW and a black Toyota, and reported seeing three men flee from one of the cars.

“We’re going to be looking for three African-American males,” a dispatcher can be heard saying on radio traffic. “They’re in their late teens to early 20s.  One of the males has a green parka, and one of the males has short dreads.”

As officers searched for the men, Ashley Harris told Petchenik she was walking to her car after visits to a Best Buy and Old Navy Store on Market Place Boulevard.

“I literally got to my car and there was a Cumming Police Department officer yelling and telling me to stop,” she said.  “I turned around and he’s asking me ‘why did I leave the scene of an accident?’   I was like ‘I wasn’t in an accident, what are you talking about?’”

Harris said the Cumming Officer demanded her identification, and when she questioned why, he told her to put her hands behind her back.

“I was like, ‘here, take my ID’ and he’s like, ‘no it’s too late for that,’” she said.  “He pushes me up against my car.”

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Body cam footage provided to Petchenik by Harris and her attorney, obtained through an open records request, shows a Forsyth County Deputy arrive to the scene and come upon Harris, in handcuffs, sitting on the ground near the Cumming officer’s car.

“If you just had a back injury, why did you leave the accident over there?” the deputy can be heard asking Harris.

“I was not in an accident!  I was in Best Buy!” she yelled back.

Harris said she pleaded with the officer and the deputy to check the receipt in her purse to prove she was inside the store at the time of the accident, but she said they refused to look.

Body camera footage shows the Forsyth County Deputy travel to the Best Buy store to check surveillance video that would corroborate Harris’ story.

“It appears she was in here long before the accident,” the deputy can be heard telling the officer on his body cam footage after reviewing surveillance from inside the store.

Later, the deputy explained to Best Buy employees why he needed to review the video.

“There was an accident and some people fled from the scene and she was an exact description, all black with dreads running from the scene,” he said.  “Just so happened when she was walking out down here one of the city guys ran into her and detained her until we could figure it out.”

Harris said she was finally released after nearly 40 minutes in handcuffs.

“I’ve honestly been depressed since this has happened,” she said. “This is like probably one of the worst things that has happened to me knowing that I didn’t do anything.”

In a statement, Cumming Police Chief David Marsh said he’s opened an internal investigation.

“I take these kinds of complaints very seriously,” he wrote.

A Forsyth County Sheriff’s spokesman told Petchenik Harris has not filed a formal complaint against the deputy and there is no investigation into him.

Marsh told Petchenik the officer in question will remain on the streets during his investigation.

Harris’ attorney, Zack Greenamyre, told Petchenik police have an obligation to consider any evidence that might prove someone is innocent, and in this case he said they ignored several key factors, including that Harris had a receipt from the store and was getting into a car that wasn’t damaged and didn’t match the description of any of the vehicles involved in the crash.

“Not the right age, not the right gender, not wearing the right clothing.  All of this in conjunction with the other readily available exculpatory information shows no probable cause,” he said.  “Nothing approaching probable cause, there’s nothing approaching reasonable suspicion, and from where it stands now, this was not a lawful arrest.”

Harris said she hopes the officer and deputy involved are disciplined or lose their jobs over what happened.

“I know that Cumming has a bad rap for things that happened in the past and if you let this kind of behavior happen and nothing happens, this is the opposite message of what you’re trying to send that your county is progressive and stuff now because clearly it isn’t,” she said.