City reaches settlement in Atlanta Eagle federal lawsuit

The suit alleged the Atlanta Police Department and its Red Dog unit violated the employees’ and patrons’ federal and state constitutional rights by illegally detaining them, searching them without warrants and using anti-gay slurs during the raid. The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Dan Grossman and attorneys with Lambda Legal and the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Atlanta Eagle patrons alleged they were forced to lie face down on the bar’s floor the night of the raid as members of the APD’s Red Dog Unit searched them for drugs and ran background checks on them using their ID cards. Eight people were arrested and charged with operating an adult establishment without proper city permits. The raid occurred on the bar’s once popular “Underwear Night” in which dancers clad in underwear entertained patrons.

Police stated the raid came after a months-long investigation following complaints to former Mayor Shirley Franklin’s office of illegal sex taking place at the bar. No one was arrested that night for illegal sex or possession of drugs.

A trial of the “Eagle Eight” occurred in Municipal Court in March. Charges against several of those arrested were dismissed during the trial while three others were found not guilty.

Mayor Kasim Reed has worked to build trust again with the gay community by appointing two active-duty gay liaisons to the Atlanta Police Department, the first time in the department’s history there have been two LGBT liaisons.

The LGBT police advisory board, made up of LGBT leaders and advocates, was also relaunched this year at the mayor’s request in another move to help “bridge the gap” between the city and the gay community.

From the beginning, the Atlanta Eagle attorneys said this was not a case about money but about receiving an apology and changing police policy to ensure no such raid occurs again.

“If the city wants to resolve this case in a productive and responsible way, the settlement will need to include an apology, an admission of wrongdoing, and a commitment to changing police policy,” Grossman told the GA Voice in March.  “So far they have flatly refused.”

In the days following the Sept. 10 raid, several patrons in the bar that night filed official complaints with the APD’s Office of Professional Standards. Results of an investigation into these complaints have yet to be made public.

The city continued to refuse to apologize and in recent weeks court documents have been flying back and forth between Atlanta Eagle attorneys and the city’s legal department. The Atlanta Eagle attorneys have accused the city of destroying and withholding evidence it needed as part of its discovery phase of the case. The city, however, responded in other documents that it has done nothing wrong and has not destroyed evidence.

Mayor Kasim Reed did say at a recent Atlanta Executive Network meeting there would be a thorough investigation into the allegations of destroying evidence. He also named a “blue ribbon panel” that includes several gay attorneys to try to help mediate between the city and the Atlanta Eagle’s legal team.

In September, the Atlanta Citizens Review Board ruled that the APD falsely imprisoned the patrons of the Atlanta Eagle the night of the raid and violated their civil rights.
The ACRB is an independent agency made up of civilians and was created by city ordinance in 2007 to review complaints from citizens against the APD. The city formed the citizens review board after the tragic case of Kathryn Johnston, an elderly woman who was killed during an illegal narcotics raid.

The ACRB can only make recommendations to APD Chief George Turner about possible sanctions it deems necessary in cases it finds of misconduct.

In August, the ACRB also sustained allegations that abusive, anti-gay and racist language was used by APD officers during the raid, including the allegation that an officer said, “Raiding a fag bar is fun. We should do this every week.”

And in June, the ACRB ruled that David Shepherd was falsely arrested by the APD the night of the Atlanta Eagle raid. Shepherd was off-duty at the time of the raid and in his upstairs apartment, located above the bar, when he was arrested by officers.

The ACRB has stated it will also conduct an in-depth investigation into what happened at the Atlanta Eagle on Sept. 10, 2009.