At least 63 people were arrested over the weekend on suspicion of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana after police were unable to identify the actual owner of the drug stash found at a house party in Cartersville, Georgia, over the weekend.
Cartersville police said they arrived at the party — billed as a lingerie-themed 21st birthday bash, according to WXIA-TV — about 2:20 a.m. Sunday after receiving a 911 call about possible gunshots. Police, who called in the county drug task force to assist in the investigation, said they found two firearms at the scene, including one that had been reported stolen in Detroit, as well as “several smoking devices” and “suspected cocaine.”
Officers also found less than an ounce of marijuana, reported the Cartersville Daily-Tribune. When no one admitted to owning the weed, everyone still at the party was arrested.
“All the subjects at the residence were placed under arrest for the possession of the suspected marijuana which was within everyone’s reach or control,” said the Bartow Cartersville Drug Task Force in a news release.
Citing jail records, the Daily-Tribune reported that 63 people arrested at the party who’d been processed at Bartow County jail by Monday night had all been charged with a single count of possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana. The individuals arrested were predominantly black males ages 19 to 25. The Daily-Tribune said several of them were “prominent high school athletes.”
Four men were also booked on suspicion of felonies not related to drug possession, reported BuzzFeed News.
Attendees told WXIA that the reported gunshots had been fireworks.
Deja Heard, the woman whose 21st birthday was being celebrated at the party, told WSB-TV that “all of us are innocent — it’s just not right.”
Some of the arrested partygoers reported being mistreated by police, telling WSB that they were “tied up with zip ties.” and “threatened with tasers.” Several men said they’d been “locked in cages.”
The Georgia NAACP said it was launching an investigation into the arrests. The organization has backed a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the arrested partygoers, described as the “Cartersville 70.”
“Some of these young people need money to make bail and all of them need assistance with their legal fees. A good majority of these individuals are college students and members of the U.S. military who were visiting home over the holiday break, and decided to attend a party to catch up with old friends while in town. Others were working citizens who lost their jobs the second they walked into work this morning,” the campaign page reads. “They need your help to bring justice and light to the unjust treatment these individuals experienced leading to and during their incarceration.”
In nearby Athens, Georgia, black individuals are 4.7 times more likely to be charged with a marijuana violation than white individuals, according to ThinkProgress. Nationwide, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana-related offense compared with someone who is white.
On Tuesday, Cartersville police said in a statement that they would be reviewing a “long-standing” department policy to call the county drug task force during drug investigations.
“It has been a long-standing policy of the Cartersville Police Department that drug investigations routine patrol officers encounter are referred to the Bartow Cartersville Drug Task Force. This current policy is now under review for any further drug investigations,” police said.