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CASE UPDATE – On June 1, 2022, Judge Thomas W. Thrash (N.D. Ga.) denied Defendant City of Atlanta’s motion to dismiss. Plaintiff Sharif Hassan proceeds on First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims, as well as a claim under Georgia’s Open Records Act.

Decision Denying Motion to Dismiss

Congratulations to Clinic students Ashley Waterfill (JD ’22) and Marc Bennett (JD ’22) and Clinic Fellow Lindsey Floyd for their work on the winning brief.

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On November 8, 2021, the First Amendment Clinic filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of photojournalist Sharif Hassan who was arrested, and his work product was seized, while he was filming protests in Atlanta following the murder of George Floyd. The case is co-counseled with Atlanta-based civil rights attorneys Gerry Weber and Leigh Finlayson.

In response to thousands of people demonstrating for police accountability in the aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s death, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an executive order on May 29, 2020 putting in place a 9 PM-to-sunrise curfew. Unlike similar curfews in cities around the country, the Atlanta order contained no exception for members of the media engaged in newsgathering.

On the evening of June 1, 2020, Mr. Hassan was photographing demonstrators for his employment when he witnessed an individual being arrested by the Atlanta Police Department. Moments after Mr. Hassan began photographing this public arrest, officers stopped his recording and arrested him. The officers ignored his statements that he was a working journalist there to cover the protests. Mr. Hassan was charged with a curfew violation and held in jail, while other members of the media in Mr. Hassan’s immediate vicinity were permitted to continue working.

While in custody, Mr. Hassan, who is Arab-American, was separated from other protest-related arrestees. He was the only one from this group who was forced to change out of his street clothes and into a jail jumpsuit, and who spent the night in handcuffs. Mr. Hassan was among the last to be released the next day. Two of his memory cards containing photographs of the Atlanta protests that the police seized when he was arrested were never returned to him. The City of Atlanta continued to prosecute Mr. Hassan for a curfew violation for more than six months. The charge was ultimately dropped in January 2021 after his counsel filed a motion, co-authored by the Clinic, asserting his free speech and equal protection rights.

The current federal lawsuit asserts violations under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, including Mr. Hassan’s right to record, right to be free of unlawful arrest and unreasonable seizure of property, and right to equal protection under the law.

Thank you to the members of the First Amendment Clinic, past and present, who contributed to this filing: Samantha Hamilton (legal fellow), Daniel Zimmer (3L), Julia Griffis (’21 JD), Amy Morgia (3L), and Catherine Freeman (2L). 

Subsequent Filings:
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (PDF)
Hassan’s Opposition to Motion to Dismiss (PDF)