Frustration and anger with the mayor and police chief were expressed by several citizens at the Atlanta Police LGBT advisory group’s community meeting on Wednesday as they discussed the 2009 Atlanta Eagle raid and the seemingly unending fallout from it.
About 30 people, including several police officers and representatives of Mayor Kasim Reed’s staff, attended the meeting held at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Midtown. No formal action was taken by the police LGBT advisory board other than to state they are requesting separate meetings with Mayor Kasim Reed and Chief George Turner, to be held within the next two weeks.
The citizen board also plans to send a letter to each seeking answers to questions including why more officers were not fired after scathing investigations showed officers did not follow procedures when they raided the gay bar on Sept. 10, 2009.
All the people — citizens and LGBT advisory group members — who spoke at the community meeting expressed dismay that the city has taken nearly two years to take any action against the officers who lied, destroyed evidence, and violated the civil rights of the roughly 62 patrons in the bar the night it was raided.
Six officers were fired and nine disciplined last week for their roles in the botched raid after an investigation by the APD Office of Professional Standards and an independent investigation by the law firm Greenberg Traurig were released to the public. The investigations were mandated in the settlement of a federal lawsuit filed by patrons in the bar during the raid.
All board members agreed more officers needed to be fired and the city’s leadership needed to hold them accountable so LGBT people can feel safe as well as to heal the pain caused by the raid.
“Unlike most of you in the room I have had the experience of being a queer police officer,” said board member Molly Simmons, who was a DeKalb County police officer. “And I know that for every one of the police officers mentioned in this report involved in the Eagle raid, there are 50, 70, 90, 99 good officers out there committed to protecting and serving the community.
“The problem is that now when a lesbian person, a gay person, a bisexual or transgender person sees a cop coming they don’t know if this is a good cop there to protect them or whether this is a bad cop there to hurt them,” she said.
‘Bias is born of your behavior’
Sandy Hoke, a life insurance agent who attended the forum, said Chief Turner and Mayor Reed were contributing to discrimination against LGBT people by not doing more.
“Bias is born of the kind of behavior which we witnessed here,” Hoke said, speaking to the police officers and representatives of the mayor’s office in attendance.
“I carry that bias everywhere I go. This bias is born of your behavior — that is the police department’s behavior and the mayor’s office behavior. They’ve tried to stuff this under the rug and because they’ve dragged this out…unreasonably. I find this very distressing,” he said.
Rev. Paul Turner questioned the police department’s reasoning behind the raid itself. The investigation, under former Chief Richard Pennington, began with an email sent to then-Mayor Shirley Franklin alleging illegal sex and drug use at the Midtown gay bar. Another tip was sent to Crime Stoppers, allegedly from a disgruntled former patron of the bar. On the night of the raid, eight people were arrested for permit violations. No one was arrested for drugs or for illegal sex.
“Someone who didn’t like gay people very much got taken off the leash and this is what happened,” Turner said of the raid. “I just want everyone from the top down fired … this investigation was frivolous.”
Geoff Calhoun, the lead plaintiff in the federal civil lawsuit against the city, said he wanted 16 officers fired. The city settled the lawsuit for more than $1.025 million in December.
“[Those officers] are lying, ignorant bigots. There’s no way around it,” Calhoun said. “They dehumanized me that night. There’s a petition going around for all of the officers being fired. I don’t agree with that. That’s doing the same thing to them as they did to us. I’ve been vindicated. But 16 officers need to go,” he said. Twenty-five officers participated in the raid.
Dan Grossman, lead attorney for the Eagle plaintiffs, questioned Turner’s decision to “protect” a small group of officers.
“You would think a chief would not work so hard to defend, protect, cover-up a small handful of people who make the whole department look bad and that’s what we’ve had for the past almost two years with the Eagle case,” he said.
City officials defend actions, seek input
While Mayor Reed cannot himself fire a police officer, he can let Chief Turner know his feelings about the Eagle raid investigations, he told GA Voice in an interview on July 5.
“I can’t comment on terminations because by ordinance there is a certain amount of separation between the Atlanta Police Department and myself. But what I do have the ability to do is make my feelings known including to my chief [George Turner] that the success or failure in my administration will be judged by this situation,” he said.
Amber Robinson, senior assistant city attorney in the Department of Law, attended the meeting Wednesday representing the Atlanta Police Department. She addressed several concerns raised by board members and those attending the forum:
• All officers who the investigations determined and the chief determined were untruthful were dismissed. She said she understands the concern people have raised about officers not being able to testify in future criminal cases if they are found to be untruthful, but said nobody who was found untruthful by Turner remained on the force.
Two officers that were found to be untruthful in the investigations were not fired — Officers Dimitri Jacques and Vicente Marcano. A press release from the APD said Turner dismissed those charges against those officers.
• Police had announced after the investigations that Major Debra Williams, supervisor of the Red Dog Unit and the Vice Unit when the raid occurred, “was demoted” to the rank of lieutenant. Williams then retired from the police department after nearly 28 years on the force, the day before her demotion was to take effect. Robinson explained that to retire with full pension an employee must serve 30 years. “She retired after she was told she was demoted. The order of her demotion was signed; it was an official act. She did choose to retire before it became an official act,” Robinson said.
• By retiring before serving her full 30 years, Williams took about a 30 percent cut from her full pension, Robinson added. Even if she had served as a lieutenant to reach 30 years, her pension would have been decided on the highest three years of her salary — which was as a major. “Her demotion would not have affected her three years of higher service,” Robinson said.
• As far as the time it took to complete the investigations, Robinson said the extra time was needed to fully comply with the court order as mandated in the settlement. “In this particular case there was and still is a court order. In order to fully comply, additional time was needed which gave us time to do the OPS report but also gave us the opportunity to hire the law firm Greenberg Traurig to do an investigation. This led to a larger amount of time than we would have liked, but the results do speak for themselves and justify the length of time,” she said.
Reese McCranie, a spokesperson for Reed, said he could see “obviously a lot of pain still exists” from many people about the Eagle raid. McCranie, who is gay, also said it was “certainly within realm of possibility for the board to meet with the mayor.”
McCranie asked those attending to think of three specific changes they would like to see happen within the police department and email them to him at rmccranie@AtlantaGa.Gov.