After I-Team investigations, ATL and Riverdale to automatically refund drivers wrongly ticketed by speed cams

The FOX 5 I-Team found six automated speed cameras set up near Riverdale High and Riverdale Middle schools wrongly ticketed thousands of drivers over two school years. The two cameras seen here stand outside the high school. (FOX 5)

There’s good news for some drivers who received bad tickets from automated school zone cameras.

Just as the cameras slapped them with citations automatically, they’ll get their money back automatically.

Over the past school year, the FOX 5 I-Team revealed several spots in metro Atlanta where the devices ticketed thousands of drivers unfairly, citing them for speeding past schools even though they weren’t going fast enough to be cited under the law.

The problem: cameras out of sync with flashing school zone lights.

Two cities that saw the problem, Atlanta and Riverdale, will refund motorists who already paid fines for something they didn’t do. And drivers don’t have to lift a finger – both cities will give out checks and credit card refunds automatically.

Riverdale Police Chief Todd Spivey told the FOX 5 I-Team that he and contractor RedSpeed confirmed the I-Team's findings about bogus tickets and have already started issuing refunds. (FOX 5)

"It's just the right thing to do," Riverdale Police Chief Todd Spivey said. "They shouldn't have to go out of their way to get a refund."

Verra Mobility, the camera contractor for Atlanta Public Schools, told the I-Team in a written statement Tuesday that it has already dismissed tickets mailed to motorists cited for speeding on Memorial Drive during times when blinking school zone lights cut off early.

According to an I-Team investigation, the glitch resulted in 4,460 faulty citations, but it’s unclear how many of those tickets have already been dismissed or never got paid. A spokesman for APS previously said that roughly 2,000 questionable tickets had been identified. 

A FOX 5 I-Team investigation found flashing school zone lights set up near Drew Charter School in Atlanta shut off 15 minutes early on mornings and afternoons, confusing drivers. (FOX 5)

In Atlanta, first tickets cost $75 and second-time-or-more tickets cost $125.

"For those who submitted payment, the City is issuing automatic refunds via check, regardless of the original payment method," the statement from Verra Mobility said. 

Two months after the I-Team identified thousands of drivers wrongly ticketed near Riverdale High and Riverdale Middle schools, the city’s police chief said he and camera contractor RedSpeed have confirmed FOX 5's findings and already started the process of making it right.

According to the chief, the total number of bad tickets written in Riverdale: $8,766. 

Total tickets already paid, requiring refunds: $5,258.

Total amount going back to drivers: $420,640.

Candace Thompson, who lives near Riverdale High School, told the FOX 5 I-Team she believes she picked up most of her invalid speed camera citations on her way home from the gym. (FOX 5)

Candace Thompson, who lives near the high school, expects to receive $650 of that. During the past two years, she received six citations from the cameras – five of them erroneous, because the cameras cited her for speeding above 25 mph during times when the school zone flashers weren’t blinking.

In Riverdale, first tickets cost $80 and all subsequent tickets cost $130.

"They need to pay what they owe," she said. "It was money that I shouldn't have had to pay out to begin with. I shouldn't have been ticketed in the first place."

Thompson said the tickets caused her a whirlwind of trouble. Some of them, she says, never arrived in the mail, and when she went to renew her auto registration this year, she found a hold on her account because of three unpaid tickets – all of them, it turns out, invalid.

Candace Thompson is seen here with an automated camera set up outside Riverdale High School, which gave her five bogus speeding tickets over two school years. (FOX 5)

"I had to pay $400 to get my car registration," she said. "And I had no choice, because I was going to have expired tags."

Chief Spivey said credit card refunds and checks in the mail will go out automatically over the next four months, and any holds on vehicle registrations because of erroneous tickets will be lifted. 

He also issued a mea culpa, saying the police department and RedSpeed used one set of times for the cameras – the same schedule listed on street signs in the area – while Clayton County Transportation and Development, which programs the school zone flashers, used its own schedule. 

Riverdale Police and camera contractor RedSpeed used a schedule printed on street signs to set the automated cameras, but the county's transportation department used its own schedule to program the flashing school zone lights. (FOX 5)

"We all thought we all had everything set up the right way," Spivey said. "What we weren't doing is going out into the field, sitting there, watching the yellow signals and making sure that they were going on and off exactly as indicated on those signs."

In Atlanta, near Drew Charter School, two sets of blinking lights with a sign that says "Speed Limit 25 when flashing" cut off too early – at 8:15 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. – while the cameras went on ticketing based on a 25 mph speed limit until 8:30  a.m. and 5 p.m.

The I-Team found that Atlanta Public Schools became aware of the problem in late November, but no one adjusted the cameras before the city finally corrected the flashers on May 2.

Original plans approved under a state permit called for these signs to have a schedule of times for the 25 mile-per-hour speed limit, but the city and the camera contractor decided to alter the plans, the FOX 5 I-Team found. (FOX 5)

The I-Team also learned that under original plans for the school zone required for a state permit to operate the cameras, street signs facing both directions of traffic should have told drivers the schedule of 25 mph times before they passed the cameras. After talking to the camera contractor, the city decided the signs were too confusing and removed them, the I-Team reported, raising questions about whether the cameras should be issuing tickets at that location at all.

The city provided an email address for questions about refunds:

A FOX 5 I-Team investigation found that on this busy stretch of Memorial Drive, school zone speed cameras unfairly issued nearly 4,500 tickets to drivers who may have been confused by non-blinking school zone lights. (FOX 5)

David Malkin has been trying to get answers for weeks, he says, leading only to frustration.

"Basically, I feel like I'm stuck in an administrative black hole," he said.

David Malkin, wrongly ticketed on Memorial Drive, described his efforts to obtain a refund as "an administrative black hole." (FOX 5)

Malkin received a ticket in April, one minute before 5 p.m., for going 37 mph in a 25 mph. Under the law, a vehicle must be going at least 11 miles over the speed limit to be cited by an automated camera, so Malkin wasn’t legally speeding above 35 mph at the time.

He says he has sent emails, made several phone calls, and even filled out a city refund request form.

"And then it’s been crickets ever since," Malkin said.

According to Tuesday’s statement from the camera contractor, he can rest easy.

"No action is required from those who are due a refund," the company said.

The FOX 5 I-Team's ongoing investigation into invalid school zone camera citations started in Jonesboro, where cameras went on ticketing based on a 25 mile-per-hour speed limit after flashing lights had stopped. (FOX 5)

Last year, the I-Team also identified hundreds of citations issued in error by Jonesboro. That city, which contracts with RedSpeed, also did automatic refunds, totaling $76,400 for 1,244 citations.

Touted as a school safety measure, automated school zone speed cameras were legalized by the state legislature in 2018, with a bill passed after midnight before that year’s Sine Die, reportedly with help from then-Speaker of the House David Ralston, whose son was lobbying for a speed camera company.

Efforts to reform or jettison the controversial systems failed to pass in this year’s legislative session. Several lawmakers, including Rep. Chas Cannon, R-Moultire, have said they will revisit the issue next year.