Suit: Free jailed Atlanta man too poor to pay bond

A 45-year-old man, was covered with his own feces when he was arrested, has been held in jail since late October without a judge ever deciding if he was able to pay a $500 bond. Randall McCrary was charged with yelling obscenities at customers at an Atlanta gas station, according to a suit filed Monday.

Sarah Geraghty, managing attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, wrote in a petition filed in Fulton County Superior Court that McCrary was in jail only because he was poor and not because he posed a danger to others. The petition asks the Superior Court to order McCrary released.

The case marks the latest salvo in an ongoing battle over the Atlanta Muncipal Court’s practice of requiring cash bail for low-level offenders who sometimes cannot pay and languish behind bars.

“This is yet another illustration of the two-tiered system of pre-trial justice in the City of Atlanta,” Geraghty said “We have one system for people of means and another for people who can’t afford to pay for their release. “

It also is an example of “the shabby way that we treat people with mental illness in Atlanta city court,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday.

MORE: Probation company to pay for demanding drug tests

RELATED: Man jailed when couldn’t pay for lie detector

Not only is the pre-set bail system being challenged in Atlanta it also has been questioned in other states and is part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s on-going push to reform Georgia’s criminal justice system; the 2018 Legislature is expected to address the use of cash bail.

Just last week, civil rights groups sent a letter to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms that was similar to one they delivered weeks earlier to her predecessor, asking that the Municipal Court abandon its use of pre-set cash bail. A spokeswoman for Bottoms said the mayor was reviewing the letter sent to her last week and would respond to it soon. Court officials could not be reached for comment Monday as city government was closed because of predictions of wintry weather.

According to the suit, on Oct. 22 a police officer was dispatched to a gas station on Boulevard because of reports of a man yelling at customers. The officer wrote in his report that he arrested McCrary, who had covered himself with his own feces, after he continued to yell threats and obscenities. McCrary was taken first to Grady Memorial Hospital and then to the Atlanta Detention Center on a charge of disorderly conduct.

A Municipal Court judge set bond for McCrary — who lived with his elderly mother and was receiving Supplemental Security Income because of a mental disability — after he was released from the hospital and transferred to jail. “There was no judicial inquiry into his ability to pay $500, and no judicial finding made that such a sum was necessary to reasonably guarantee McCrary’s appearance in court. No judicial officer inquired into his ability to pay bond,” the petition said.

Another municipal court judge signed an order on Dec. 15 to send McCrary’s case to Fulton County State Court; the charge was converted to misdemeanor “fighting words/use of profanity.”

He was transported to the Fulton County Jail six days later.

“McCrary has long since been stabilized on his mental health medications,” the petition said.

“If he could pay, he would be out of there (jail),” Geraghty said.

In Atlanta, there are pre-set bonds for every offense that falls under the purview of the Municipal Court. Essentially, the bonds equal the fines that would be imposed for a guilty plea or verdict. The fines are relatively low — in some cases as little as $10, $60 or $132 — but poor defendants are often unable to pay.

Last November, the Southern Center filed petition for Sean Ramsey that was similar’s to McCrary’s. Ramsey was arrested for standing beside a busy street with a handmade cardboard sign on which he had written “homeless, please help. His bond was set at $200, which he could not pay, so he was held in jail 2 1/2 months until his situation was made public.

Another lawsuit has been brought against a city north of metro Atlanta. A case pending in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says the city of Calhoun’s use of pre-set bail violates the constitutional rights of poor defendants.

Elsewhere, Houston has also been sued for using pre-set bail while cities like Chicago, Nashville, Birmingham and New Orleans have abandoned the practice of locking up low-level offenders when they cannot post bond for crimes that otherwise would include no jail time for punishment.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Former Lithonia Police Chief attempted to resign same day he was fired
Former Lithonia Police Chief attempted to resign same day he was fired

The Lithonia city council fired its police chief the same day he tried to hand in his resignation papers, Channel 2 Action News reported. Documents obtained by Channel 2 included accusations from officers that former Chief Roosevelt Smith violated city policy, retaliated against officers, created a hostile-toxic work environment and promoted people...
WATCH: Bodycam video shows Marietta officer saving baby’s life
WATCH: Bodycam video shows Marietta officer saving baby’s life

A Marietta officer saved the life of a 2-month-old infant, and the entire thing was caught on bodycam video, Channel 2 Action News reported. Nick St. Onge, a five year police veteran, performed infant CPR on the baby who wasn’t breathing and appeared lifeless, Channel 2 reported. The video shows St. Onge quickly and calmly performing CPR on the...
Fulton drug dealer sentenced to life in prison for killing 21-year-old mother 
Fulton drug dealer sentenced to life in prison for killing 21-year-old mother 

A Fulton County drug dealer was sentenced to life in prison plus 10 years Thursday for murdering a 21-year-old mother. Larry Reese, 39, had previously been arrested eight times in South Fulton County with three of the arrests stemming from illegal drug activity, according to a news release. Claynesia Ringer traveled to Reese’s home to purchase...
Acworth man allegedly breaks into 7 cars, runs from cops before being tased
Acworth man allegedly breaks into 7 cars, runs from cops before being tased

An Acworth man allegedly broke into nearly a dozen cars at an auto repair shop and ran from police before being arrested, authorities said. Acworth police arrested Justin Copson for over a dozen charges, including obstruction, Channel 2 Action News reported. Copson allegedly broke into at least seven cars at Clay Auto Report in Marietta on Friday...
Milton police ID suspect who allegedly took upskirt photos of woman at Walmart
Milton police ID suspect who allegedly took upskirt photos of woman at Walmart

Police are searching for a man who allegedly took pictures up a woman’s skirt at a north Fulton Walmart. Milton police have issued an arrest warrant for James Barron, Channel 2 Action News reported. He’s charged with surreptitious recording of intimate parts, which is a felony. Police told Channel 2 a North Georgia detective recognized...
More Stories