Lawyer explains lawsuit against Columbus domestic violence policy

COLUMBUS, Ga — Should alleged domestic violence victims have to pay, if they head to court, and later decide not to press charges? That happened to a Columbus woman. Now, the Southern Center for Human Rights has filed a lawsuit against the city on her behalf.

Cleopatra Harrison attended her court date after calling police to report domestic abuse. But when she decided not to press charges, her attorney says she was told to pay a $150 dismissal fee. She didn’t have it, and he says she was arrested.

“Obviously, you can’t just arrest somebody without a warrant, unless they are committing a crime in your presence,” said Mark Post, a Columbus attorney representing Harrison.

Mark Post and the Southern Center for Human Rights say more than civil rights violations are at-stake.

“Obviously if they [domestic violence victims] know they are going to be fined or even jailed if they report an offense, they are going to be less likely to do so, and obviously, that’s a big problem,” said Post.

Johanne Harris works with domestic violence victims and agrees.

“Usually when a woman is caught up in domestic violence, she doesn’t have any money to pay anyway,” said Harris, president and executive director of House of Mercy in Columbus.

Over the past 24 hours, News 3 has tried three times to contact the city attorney. We are yet to hear back from him. We do have a press release, sent out yesterday afternoon by the City of Columbus.

The city states “the mayor, Columbus Council, and all law enforcement officials take allegations contained in the lawsuit seriously” and “want to ensure all citizens are treated fairly. . .”

“I know of some ladies who have called the police, and the person who is abusing them has threatened them that if they go through with it, they are going to kill them,” said Johanne Harris.

Post says the lawsuit has been filed as a potential class action suit to ending this policy.

There is a statute that allows a court to impose fines on someone who tries to maliciously prosecute another person.  But Post says that should not apply to domestic violence victims.

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