Lawsuit targets Columbus city policy in domestic violence cases

Lawsuit targets Columbus city policy in domestic violence cases

Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP/WTVM) - A federal lawsuit challenges what it says is a Georgia city's policy of collecting a fee from alleged victims of domestic violence who decline to participate in the prosecution of their alleged abusers.

The Southern Center for Human Rights on Wednesday filed the lawsuit against the city of Columbus, a judge, and several law enforcement officers.

City attorneys didn't immediately respond to a phone message from the Associated Press seeking comment.

The lawsuit says Cleopatra Harris called 911 to report abuse. Officers took her statement, observed her injuries, arrested her boyfriend and told her to appear in court.

The lawsuit says Harris confirmed an officer's account in court of what happened but said she didn't want to press charges. The lawsuit says the judge then told her she owed $150 since she wanted to dismiss the case.

The suit lists Columbus Judge Michael Cielinski, Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr, Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren, and CPD Officer Michael Lincoln as defendants.

"The City's policy toward women experiencing domestic violence sounds like something out of the nineteenth century," said SCHR attorney, Sarah Geraghty.  "It's a holdover from an era in which women were blamed for male violence."

Regarding the threat to summarily jail indigent people for non-payment of the victim fee, Geraghty added: "It's hard to believe that we've taken the concept of "debtors' prison" to this new low."

You can view the SCHR's full statement by clicking here.

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson issued a statement on Wednesday, it says:

The Consolidated Government of Columbus, Georgia ("CCG"), Recorder's Court Judge Michael Cielinski, Sheriff John Darr, Police Chief Ricky Boren and police officer Michael Lincoln were named in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court today by Plaintiff Cleopatra Harrison. The lawsuit, which has not been served on any of the defendants, makes allegations concerning the application of a city ordinance related to fees charged in connection with the dismissal of a Recorder's Court case. The lawsuit is currently being reviewed by outside counsel and will be responded to appropriately.

You can read the full complaint here.

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