ATLANTA — At least 1,800 criminal cases have been dismissed in a metro Atlanta county court since 2010 because police officers failed to show up in court despite being subpoenaed to testify, records show.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the findings after its investigation of Fulton County Magistrate Court.
The newspaper also found that court officials don’t notify police departments when officers miss court and that prosecutors do so in only a fraction of cases.
“It’s very common,” lawyer Ashleigh Merchant, a former Fulton County public defender, said of officers missing court. “Fulton County is notorious for not having officers show up. There’s so much apathy, it’s amazing.”
Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said he wants to get the problem corrected but can’t correct it if he’s not notified.
“It makes no sense for us to book cases that we don’t follow through with the process,” Turner said.
Fulton County Solicitor Carmen Smith said it’s not standard procedure in her office to inform police when officers fail to appear.
“We go on to the next case,” she said. “If there’s some reason to let them know, we let them know.”
The greatest impact of the dismissed cases is on the victims of crimes that are not prosecuted in the court, which handles misdemeanor crimes, the newspaper reported. Many of the cases involve people who have been victims of violence.
SeAndra Hardy, of Jonesboro, was knocked unconscious and her 7-year-old son suffered a deep gash on his head when she crashed into a motorist whose vehicle pulled in front of her vehicle in 2009.
Charges against that motorist, who fled the scene, were dismissed because the investigating officer didn’t show up in court.
“That makes me sad for the court system,” said Hardy, 38. “He injured my son badly, and all of us could have been killed in that accident.
“He could go out there, he could injure someone else and then the police don’t show up (in court). It’s all well, fine and dandy for (the police), and they ain’t got nothing to do with it no more. He can get off scot free.”
Though most couldn’t provide numbers, magistrate courts in neighboring counties aren’t dealing with nearly as many officer no-show dismissals, court officials say.
In Gwinnett County, the court administrator called such cases “quite rare.”
In Cobb County, just 13 cases have been dismissed during the past five years because officers failed to appear, the chief magistrate judge said.