A promise by the city of Atlanta to “vigorously” defend against a December contempt motion claiming the police department ignored a federal court order to properly train officers following the unconstitutional 2009 raid on Midtown gay bar Atlanta Eagle morphed into a meek mea culpa before a federal judge this month.
And the owner of the bar says the city’s ongoing defiance of the court order after some six years is “nothing more than a slap in the face of the gay community.”
Atlanta Eagle bar patrons sued the city in federal court after the raid and claimed their constitutional rights were violated; in December 2010 the city agreed to settle with the plaintiffs for approximately $1.2 million. Mayor Kasim Reed also apologized to the plaintiffs, the court ruled the raid was unconstitutional, and the patrons said they wanted the city to promise to train officers properly on such actions as search and seizure so as to avoid similar raids in the future.
“We said from the beginning that what we wanted was not about money,” said Richard Ramey, owner of the Atlanta Eagle. “We wanted to help the city of Atlanta and not just the gay community.”
APD continues to violate court order
But in a May 5 hearing before federal Judge Timothy Batten on a motion for contempt filed by Atlanta Eagle attorneys, City Attorney Robert Godfrey acknowledged the city has failed to properly train police as was mandated as part of the city’s settlement with the plaintiffs.
“I’m admitting portions of what we were supposed to do we did not do,” Godfrey told Batten.
As part of that settlement, the city acknowledged it violated the patrons’ constitutional rights and promised to implement court-ordered reforms as part of the APD’s standard operating procedure (SOP), including:
• documenting warrantless detentions, frisks and searches;
• prohibiting officers from interfering with the public’s right to take photographs and videotape and make audio recordings of police officers and activity;
• requiring uniformed officers to always wear clearly visible name tags and identify themselves when asked;
• requiring the APD to rule on citizen complaints of police misconduct within 180 days; and
• requiring the city of Atlanta to conduct mandatory in-person training for all police officers every two years regarding Fourth Amendment issues and the safe use of firearms.
On May 5, Batten ordered the city to train its 2,000 officers on all these SOPs within 90 days; that was to start immediately.
Major Jeff Glazier, former head of training for the Atlanta Police Department, said he believed many officers were formally trained as mandated. “But clearly from the judge’s order we will have to go back and retrain the entire force on these issues,” he said.
Atlanta Eagle attorney Dan Grossman, who argued the motion for contempt before Judge Batten, said after the hearing he could not understand why the city wasted taxpayer money to try to defend themselves and then in a court hearing finally admit they were wrong.
“Why was the city fighting against complying with an order … if it was eventually going to stop fighting and say, well, we’re sorry? Why not do this in December when we brought it up instead of waiting five months? Why is the city violating orders and instead spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars?” he said.
The Georgia Voice requested comment from the city on why it did not comply with the Atlanta Eagle settlement in December rather than litigate for five months before simply agreeing it had not complied with the settlement.
“Because this is an active court matter, we cannot comment,” said Anne Torres, spokesperson.
‘City should be ashamed’
Ramey and the bar were awarded $80,000 as part of that $1.2 million settlement nearly six years ago. Had the plaintiffs decided to go to court rather than settle, Ramey said he and the others were told they could have had a payout of many millions of dollars.
“I’m very disappointed in what we fought for is not being honored,” he said. “This [settlement] was not something we took lightly. We had many, many meetings, group meetings with everyone involved, and this was something we all agreed upon,” he said. “We felt we were doing the right thing.”
“And the city just won’t let it die. They won’t put this case to rest. They should be ashamed of themselves. They want us to abide by the laws, well, then, they should abide by what they agreed to do,” he added. “Being a man of your word should be the highest priority as an officer. It’s still very upsetting that money is still being paid out to our attorneys to enforce what they agreed with us.”
Ramey added: “This is nothing more than a slap in the gay community’s face. They do not want to be told what to do by the gay community. I truly feel that way.”
Grossman agreed. “I think there are people at City Hall who simply want to defy [the settlement] … even if a federal judge orders them to do so. Someone at City Hall does not like a judge telling them what to do,” he added. “And clearly they have a resentment about this case. But they should want to comply. It’s [Mayor] Kasim Reed who should want to train cops.”