Atlanta Fires 6 Police After Eagle Bar Raid
Six police officers involved in the 2009 raid on a gay bar, the Atlanta Eagle, have reportedly been fired for lying about what happened on the evening in question, reported local newspaper the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on July 8.
On Sept. 10, 2009, police entered the Atlanta Eagle, allegedly because of tips that nude dancing, public sex, and drug use were taking place at the establishment.
But bar owner Richard Ramey, who was not charged, took issue with how the raid reportedly was conducted, with officers allegedly forcing patrons to lay face-down on the floor, handcuffing them, and subjecting them to illegal searches. Some patrons claimed that the officers taunted them with anti-gay epithets.
"Our problem is with the way our customers were treated," Ramey told the Journal-Constitution in a Sept. 12, 2009 article, published just two days after the raid.
"I’m thinking, this is Stonewall. It’s like I stepped into the wrong decade," bar patron Nick Koperski told the paper at that time.
"Before I knew it I was being handcuffed," said bartender Chris Lopez. "[The police] were going from patron to patron, having everyone turn out their pockets."
But the case came to naught in court, when Municipal Judge Crystal Gaines found three defendants not guilty of license violations. Charges against the other five were then dropped.
"We always thought from the beginning that we were charged for no reason," Ramey said. "[The police] had no right to be there."
Subsequent attempts at investigating the raid were met with resistance from the Atlanta police, who were accused of stonewalling when they refused to cooperate with the Atlanta Citizen Review Board.
Meantime, 19 of the 62 patrons at the bar during the raid took part in a lawsuit that resulted in a $1 million settlement. The settlement also mandated revisions in the police department’s procedures.
A report into the raid "found many officers lied, knowingly violated the constitutional rights of those at the bar, destroyed evidence, and tried to cover up what they had done," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article said. In all, 16 officers committed various infractions, the report said.
The highest ranking among them, Maj. Debra Williams, received a demotion in rank and promptly announced her retirement, according to a July 7 Creative Loafing article that cited the GA Voice.
The report was a condition of the $1 million settlement, and entailed a three-month investigation. An independent legal firm, Greenberg Traurig, conducted the report. A second investigation by the police department’s own internal affairs division confirmed the findings, noted the GA Voice in a July 11 article.
"Both investigations found deep negligence from the command staff and that numerous officers violated procedures, destroyed evidence and lied under oath," the GA Voice article added. "Multiple officers also violated the constitutional rights of the patrons in the bar the night of the raid by forcing them to the floor and searching them illegally. There was also no doubt anti-gay prejudice played a role in how the men were treated."
For some of the officers, the report was not the first instance in which their honesty was placed in doubt.
"At least two of the officers cited for lying -- James Menzoian and Brandon Jackson -- had been accused of lying another time," the article said. A federal judge said the two were ’less than candid’ in an October 2009 drug case. Federal prosecutors told APD they would never use them again in a federal prosecution. They previously had been fired.
"A third officer also accused of lying was already on administrative leave when the report was issued on June 28," added the article. "Bennie Bridges was charged in Cobb County in February with driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana."
The tarnishing of the officers’ professional reputations means more than a bad rep, though. IT also means that some of the other cases they were involved in may now be re-opened.
"Any time an officer’s credibility is at issue ... that can be raised in court," attorney Christine Koehler told the AJC. For that reason, officers who are found guilty of lying are usually fired, because their testimony will no longer be legally sound.
In all, six officers were fired. Five others received suspension ranging in length from two days to 20 days, the article said. Four others were given reprimands. Three await hearings.
"Honesty goes to the very heart of a police officer’s credibility," Police Chief George Turner told the media. "The public must be able to trust its police officers and expects them to tell the truth at all times. Failure to be truthful has serious consequences at the Atlanta Police Department.
"I hope my actions today serve as a reminder to those men and women on the force that dishonesty simply will not be tolerated," added Turner.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said he was "shocked" by the findings, and told the GA Voice, "This happened before I was elected mayor. I’ve taken this extremely seriously. I began looking at this very quickly when I became mayor. I made the decision to settle after looking at details and going over the case on my own, being informed myself."
Added Reed, "I think any normal person with ordinary sensitivities would have to have been shocked by this report. And I was certainly was shocked."
But a lawyer for the Eagle patrons, Dan Grossman, fired back. The lawyer, reported GA Voice, "filed numerous briefs in October 2010 showing that police officers were destroying evidence, including cell phone records, to try to cover up their roles in the illegal raid. Greenberg Traurig confirmed in its report that officers destroyed evidence."
By that point, Reed had been mayor for about ten months. The raid itself took place before Reed took office in January of 2010.
"By making this argument he’s saying the APD is incapable of investigating itself," Grossman said. "He is suggesting that despite resources we provided to them, he had no way of knowing of the illegal conduct without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and using an outside firm?"
Added the lawyer, "He had the raw data he needed and he still was incapable of realizing what Greenberg Traurig realized."