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Airport incident not proceeding in court

By Greg Gelpi

There's one tape and two interpretations of what's on it.

The tape shows an October incident between Atlanta police Officer Terence Alexander and Diana Dietrich-Barnes, who was picking up her mother at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Alexander alleged that Dietrich-Barnes assaulted him by clipping him with the side mirror of her SUV and resisted arrest. Dietrich-Barnes, however, alleged that Alexander assaulted her by pulling her out of her SUV and throwing her to the ground.

Since both the Clayton County District Attorney's office and the Clayton County Solicitor General's office said they would not prosecute the case even if probable cause was found, the case was dismissed Monday.

A hearing was held to determine if there was probable cause to issue an arrest warrant for Dietrich-Barnes, but Lecora Bowen, Alexander's attorney, decided not to go forward because of District Attorney Bob Keller and Solicitor General Keith Martin's decision.

"I think it's usurping the authority of the magistrate," Bowen said, adding that it's "unconscionable" since American soldiers are dying in Iraq fighting for freedom.

Keller said any decision to move forward would be "meaningless," calling it an "exercise in futility." It would be a "determination that would go nowhere."

Keller said he and Martin reviewed the tape and "couldn't substantiate a prosecution." He added that had Clayton County Magistrate Judge Gloria Darty Reed found probable cause to arrest anyone the arrest warrant would have been executed.

Had Reed seen the video, she would have found evidence to arrest Dietrich-Barnes, Bowen said while Dietrich-Barnes' attorney, Steve Lister, said the tapes shows evidence to arrest Alexander.

"I am not going to go forward with this based on the information I have before me at this time," Reed said.

Despite this, Lister asked to address the court, expressing his interest that the court proceed with the matter.

"We would like a judicial determination if there is probable cause for her arrest, if there is probable cause for his arrest," Lister said.

In a sidebar before the decision not to proceed was made, the judge said she would arrest Alexander or Dietrich-Barnes if she saw any evidence of a crime, Lister said. He described the incident as an assault by a 217-pound police officer of a "lady of a slight stature."

"Right now I'm just kind of emotional," Dietrich-Barnes said. "I'm relieved that (charges have been dropped against me), but I think something needs to be done with the officer."

Since the incident, she said she has suffered nightmares and anxiety attacks. It has also affected her children and family.

"I think he should be punished for what he's done to me," Dietrich-Barnes said. "He assaulted me. He should have his badge taken away. He shouldn't be on the streets."

Alexander's attorney wanted to proceed and present witnesses as well.

"We just feel that it would be futile to go forward at this time," Bowen said. "Even in that tape it doesn't show any impropriety by Officer Alexander."

She had a witness who would have verified Alexander's story that he asked Dietrich-Barnes four times to get out of her SUV and that she resisted arrest throughout the encounter, Bowen said.

What has been shown so far is a sped-up version of a longer encounter, Bowen said. If the tape was shown in real time, it would show that Alexander was assaulted and acted properly.

Lister denied allegations that the hearing didn't go forward because of Dietrich-Barnes' "political connections."

"She's not politically active or connected in any sense," he said.

Bowen previously issued a statement alleging connections with state Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Hampton.

"I don't know her," the state representative said. "They have their facts wrong."

With one month left in office, Keller said the allegation is "absolutely the most ludicrous thing" he's ever heard.

"The prosecutor would have to know who the woman is before knowing she is politically connected," he said. "Obviously, if more evidence is brought to our attention, we will review it."

Lister called the situation "nothing less than continued maliciousness" and is contemplating civil action against Alexander and the city of Atlanta for malicious prosecution and civil rights violations, but hasn't made a decision as of yet.

Alexander, who appeared in court with his left arm in a sling, suffered "light tissue damage" from the incident, Bowen said.

The Atlanta Police Department's Office of Professional Standards is investigating to determine if excessive force was used, Sgt. John Quigley of the department said. He is working an "administrative assignment in a non-enforcement capacity."