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Video shows Atlanta-area judge shove, verbally berate officers during arrest and nightclub confrontation

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Rosie Manins
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson says her arrest at a Buckhead nightclub early Thursday was “a setup” and that she was only trying to help a woman who was being attacked.

Peterson, 38, is charged with battery and felony obstruction in relation to the incident, which occurred at the Red Martini Restaurant and Lounge on Peachtree Road shortly after 3 a.m., records show. The judge was at the club with friends for a birthday party.

Arrest warrants state that Peterson approached a male police officer and struck him “with a closed fist” and that the incident was captured on the officer’s body camera.

Atlanta police released the body camera footage Friday night, along with a statement that said in part that Peterson “rushed toward the commotion and immediately started screaming” at a security guard and the officer. Police said Peterson “forcibly pushed” the officer in the chest twice and “kept swiping his hands away.”

In the body camera footage, Peterson yells “let her (expletive) go” several times at the officer before being handcuffed. She also tells an officer to “shut the (expletive) up” as she’s being taken inside a police facility.

Peterson refused to cooperate when the officer repeatedly sought to identify her, police said.

Peterson attended a news conference Friday afternoon at her attorney’s office, but did not speak to reporters. Her attorney, Marvin Arrington Jr., called the charges against her frivolous and said they should be dropped. He called on Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to personally review the case.

“As the investigation continues to unfold and more facts come to light, we believe that Judge Christina Peterson will be completely exonerated of these charges,” Arrington said. “At least two eyewitnesses have stated that Judge Christina Peterson only tried to help Ms. (Alexandria) Love, who was being brutally and viciously attacked by a man outside of the Red Martini nightclub.”

Love spoke at the news conference. She said she doesn’t know the man who attacked her as they stood in line for food outside the club. She said she pushed a woman who was with the man, after the woman was aggressive toward her. She said she apologized to the woman, and asked the man why he was trying to provoke her.

Love said Peterson was the only person who helped her when the man attacked, while his friends tried to grab him.

“She didn’t mean to hit the officer,” Love said of Peterson. “The officer swooped in and grabbed me up. He didn’t even care to see the big man that was actually brutally hitting me in my face. (Peterson) thought I was still being hurt and attacked.”

Arrington said Peterson was acting as a Good Samaritan and said it was “a travesty of justice” that she was arrested while the man was not.

“I think in the heat of the moment a lot of things happened and maybe the officers got confused,” he said.

“This was a setup,” Peterson said on Instagram after being released from the Fulton County Jail on a $5,000 bond Thursday afternoon. “Officer initially claimed he was charging me with disorderly conduct, all for trying to help a woman who was being attacked by men then took me to jail and I find out I’m being charged with a felony now.”

The judge said the officer “slammed me to the ground for helping this woman but let the attacker get away.”

“Here I sit with bruises, black eye, swollen knee, and a felony charge because the Officer, security, and men there chose not to help this victim and instead find a way to charge me with a crime,” Peterson said. “Where is the protect and serve? Wow. They will stop at nothing to tarnish my character. God help us! We need justice.”

Love said the five police cars that responded to the incident left once Peterson was apprehended. She said law enforcement “failed me horribly.”

Love’s friend, Madison Shannon Kelly, also spoke at the news conference. She said she witnessed the incident and recorded some of it on her cellphone.

“She stepped up and helped my friend,” Kelly said of Peterson, whom she said she had not known previously. “I was trying to grab men around us to help. If she hadn’t helped, I don’t know what we would be saying today.”

Arrington said the police officers who apprehended Peterson did not take statements from Love, Kelly or other witnesses. He called for the arrest of the man who allegedly attacked Love.

Video of the incident “will confirm that Judge Peterson should not have been arrested,” he said.

Peterson is the subject of a yearslong judicial misconduct investigation, in which she faces 30 charges of violating the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct. The Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended in late March that she be removed from office. The Georgia Supreme Court has yet to decide whether or how Peterson should be punished.

Peterson, who was elected to the bench unopposed in 2020, lost the Democratic primary in May. Her successor will be Douglasville attorney Valerie Vie, who does not face a Republican challenger in the November general election.

Arrest warrants state that police were responding to a dispute at the club “between two separate parties.”

“Ms. Peterson was not involved in the initial altercation,” the arresting officer states in the warrant for the obstruction charge. “I was approached and struck with a closed fist by the accused, Christina Peterson.”

The warrant for the battery charge also states that Peterson struck the male officer with a closed fist.

Peterson, a University of Georgia School of Law graduate, practiced as an attorney for several years before taking the bench.

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