"We no longer have patience with an administration that fails to take
a strong stand against police misconduct — and for the civil
liberties of all of its citizens, no matter their sexual orientation.
Reed and Turner must immediately make clear that all members of the
police department will cooperate with the CRB in its investigation,
wherever it may lead. And those who don't must be fired."
The Atlanta Citizens Review Board on Thursday sustained allegations of abusive, anti-gay and racist language used by Atlanta Police Department officers during the botched raid of the Atlanta Eagle last year. But the board chose not to make recommendations for disciplinary action until more investigations into complaints by employees and patrons were completed.
The Eagle is a gay bar located on Ponce de Leon Avenue. It was raided in September 2009.
ATLANTA, GA - In coming to the conclusion that at least some Atlanta Police Officers used abusive, homophobic language, members of the volunteer citizen panel went against the recommendations of their paid staff. Atlanta Citizen Review Board executive director Chris Beamud says because the complaints were not made against specific officers by name, her staff had no choice.
Some readers may be thinking, “This sounds like the raid of the Atlanta Eagle last September,” and they would be right. In all likelihood every cop at the Eagle did exactly what he or she believed to be within the bounds of the law at the time. Even being kept face down on the floor for an hour isn’t a violation of anybody’s civil rights if there is a legal reason for keeping them there. But the reason the patrons were kept there for so long is because that’s how long it took to do criminal background checks on them, and not all of them were suspected of criminal activity. Some of them were just playing pool and listening to music, and that’s according to documented statements by an undercover APD officer.
Two Atlanta police officers should be disciplined for arresting a man who lived in an apartment above The Eagle while the bar was being raided last year, a panel of citizens said Thursday night.
David Shepherd, who worked at the bar, was off Sept. 10, when dozens of officers arrived at the Ponce de Leon bar. But when two officers knocked on his apartment door, Shepherd, who was watching television, was told to go downstairs, according to his complaint filed with the Citizen Review Board.
Even though he wasn't working in the bar, Shepherd was arrested and charged with operating a business without a license and not having a current permit, making it a false arrest, according to the CRB.
"He did not commit this offense on the date and time listed on the citation," Cristina Beamud, executive director of the board, said at the meeting. "On Sept. 10, 2009, this man was guilty of watching TV."
City officials have said the raid was conducted after citizen complaints of illegal sexual activity. Those complaints prompted undercover officers to visit the bar in May and June, months before the September raid. The night of the raid, bar patrons were ordered to the floor while officers looked for drugs and checked for any outstanding warrants.
No drugs or outstanding warrants were found, board vice chairman Seth Kirschenbaum said. No evidence of illegal sexual activity was found either, he said.
"Nothing happens, and then in September, a crowd of police officers from more than one unit was organized to go to The Eagle bar to conduct this raid," Kirschenbaum said. Kirschenbaum's three-year term on the board ended after Thursday's meeting.
The board voted to recommend that Sgt. John Brock be given a three-day suspension for his role in Shepherd's arrest. The board suggested another officer, Sgt. B.E. Bridges, be issued a letter of reprimand.
Board members also anticipate receiving additional complaints from those involved in the raid at The Eagle. Although individual officers should be disciplined, board members said the entire incident is an example of bigger problems within the police department.
"They were doing what they were told to do," Kirschenbaum said of the officers. "We should find out who ordered this, and whether or not they violated the law."
An Atlanta judge found three defendants in the Atlanta Eagle gay bar case not guilty Thursday, and the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the charges against the other five defendants.
Municipal Judge Crystal Gaines said city police failed to produce evidence proving that men danced naked without permits or that the bar operators were running an unlicensed adult establishment.
The decision comes as defendants and others involved with the Ponce de Leon Avenue bar are countering with a lawsuit in federal court against the city and Atlanta police officers.
"We always thought from the beginning that we were charged for no reason," bar co-owner Richard Ramey, who was not a defendant, said after the decision. "They had no right to be there," he said of the police.
And additional details and a copy of the actual resolution are available at ProjectQAtlanta: http://www.projectqatlanta.com/news_articles/view/City_Council_sends_Eagle_resolution_to_committee
The proposed resolution has been referred to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, which is scheduled to discuss the matter at a public meeting on Tuesday, January 12, 2009. Eagle co-owner Robert Kelley and Eagle attorney Dan Grossman, among others, will be at the meeting, and supporters are encouraged to attend. The meeting is currently scheduled for 3:00 PM in Committee Room 2 of Atlanta City Hall, 55 Trinity Ave. Anyone wishing to make a comment at the meeting should arrive well in advance, since there is a sign-up procedure, and for further information, the phone number of the City Council is 404-330-6030.