Back in the patrol car, Officers Courtney Brown and Kristee Wilson faced a decision. What was to be done with Sarah Webb?
Brown said Webb was caught barreling down the highway on wet pavement. She had to have been going at least 80 miles an hour. Webb had pleaded that she was late for work, Brown told her fellow officer in Roswell, Ga., in a traffic stop captured on Brown’s body camera.
The officers ticked off Webb’s potential violations. Too fast for conditions. Reckless driving. Webb’s speed was not captured by radar, Brown concedes, but Brown’s speedometer crested 90 to tail Webb in the city about 20 miles north of Atlanta.
“What do you think? Just tickets?” Brown asks Wilson, as Webb sits in her sedan just a few feet away during the stop in April.
Wilson took a few seconds to contemplate a response that would trigger an investigation, after questions and a report by WXIA-TV.
“Atlanta answer or Roswell answer?” Wilson asks. Brown laughs, and opens an app on her phone that performs a digital coin flip. Wilson sets the parameters: Heads, arrest. Tails, released.
The app pings with a flip and a clank. It’s tails, and Webb wins a contest she did not know existed.
“So release?” Brown says. But Wilson does not hesitate.
“Twenty-three,” she says, an apparent reference to what the Atlanta Police Department described as a code for an arrest or citation.
Brown steps out of the car and tells Webb she is being arrested. “You put a lot of people’s lives in jeopardy,” Brown tells her.
Webb sobs as Brown leads her to a patrol car, where at least four police vehicles and multiple officers had arrived to back up the arrest that was created out of subverted chance.
Roswell Police Chief Rusty Grant said he launched an investigation and placed the officers on administrative leave once he became aware of the incident that occurred just over three months ago.
“I have much higher expectations of our police officers and I am appalled that any law enforcement officer would trivialize the decision-making process of something as important as the arrest of a person,” Grant said in a statement Friday.
The incident raises questions about whether Brown and Wilson have used a coin flip to determine other arrests, either in Roswell or Atlanta. In the video, Brown opens the app unprompted, as if it was something she’s done before.
Both officers had served in the Atlanta Police Department, Atlanta police spokesman John Chafee told The Washington Post on Saturday. But there are no indications that they had similar conduct there, he said.
Wilson left in September after five years on the force, and Brown left last May with just under three years’ service. Chafee did not know why they left the department or whether they had worked closely together.
“Nothing in the actions of these two officers is consistent with the Atlanta Police Department’s training or its expectations of its sworn personnel,” Chafee said. “These two officers alone are responsible for their decision-making.”
WXIA-TV reported that the department denied Webb’s request to see the video. Prosecutors released the video to her on July 6, the station reported, and her case was dismissed Monday. Webb could not be reached for comment.
Webb did not know about the coin toss until contacted by the station, which reported several officers knew about the incident but did not raise concerns internally.
“Wow, these people put my freedom in the hands of a coin flip,” Webb said, according to the Associated Press. “And that’s disgusting.”