Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has learned many lessons in the almost 100 days that he has been in office. One is that he can’t speak as freely as he did on the campaign trail, including about issues like the September 2009 police raid on the Atlanta Eagle, a gay leather bar.

Atlanta mayor speaks out on Eagle lawsuit, pledges second LGBT police liaison

“Once you become mayor, my actions and my words take on a level of impact that you don’t have when you are a candidate,” Reed told the Georgia Voice in a wide-ranging interview today. “There is active litigation going on with monetary damages, and I lead a city that is in pretty tough financial straits.”

The full interview will be published in the next Georgia Voice print edition, which hits stands April 16.

The city of Atlanta faces a federal lawsuit from Eagle patrons who claim their civil rights were violated during the raid. Reed, who criticized the raid as a candidate, drew fire from some LGBT Atlantans last month when he referred to the lawsuit as a “financial threat” to the city. The remark was made in a much longer written statement about the raid issued to WSB-TV.

“When we get a judgment against us, we are just like a private company and we have to write the check,” Reed said when asked about the comment today. “So while my heart might feel one way, I have a responsibility to 565,000 citizens and I have to be more measured than I would prefer to be, and than I think the citizens of Atlanta would prefer me to be.

“I think that certainly individuals in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities would like for me to express how I feel in no uncertain terms, but were I to do that right now, any expression of my feelings could be part of the evidence in active litigation against the city of Atlanta,” Reed said.

Asked whether he is talking directly with the city law department about how to handle the case, and about the possibility that settling the lawsuit could actually save the city money by avoiding months of legal fees, Reed demurred — but hinted that he isn’t taking a bystander approach.

“I just think that I hope that people will give me time, I’ll just say that,” he responded.

During the interview, Reed also told Georgia Voice he was troubled by some media coverage and comments that he felt lost sight of the fact that the raid occurred prior to his administration.

“If you read some of the coverage you would believe that the Eagle raid happened when I was mayor,” said Reed, who became mayor in January 2010.

But a raid like the Atlanta Police Department conducted at the Eagle won’t take place in Atlanta again, or those involved will face “dire circumstances,” Reed pledged today.

Responding to two anonymous citizen complaints alleging drugs and sexual activity at the Eagle, the Atlanta Police Department initiated a months-long undercover investigation that culminated in the September 2009 raid. More than two dozen officers, including the paramilitary Red Dog unit, stormed the bar, forcing patrons to lie on the floor for more than an hour while officers searched them and ran background checks on their identification.

Although the Atlanta Police Department employs an LGBT liaison officer, she was not included in the investigation into the Eagle, and only learned about the raid when asked about it by media the next day.

The raid, which generated large protests at the Eagle and City Hall, yielded no arrests on drug or sex charges, although eight employees were cited for business license violations related to alleged “adult dancing.” All who appeared in court last month either had their charges dismissed or were found not guilty. One defendant failed to appear in court.

Reed said today he plans to add another LGBT police liaison, so that in the future there will be “a minimum of two,” and to insure that they are integrated in the police department’s operations.

“I believe in the approach of full integration, so the notion that an event like the Eagle raid would be done without [the LGBT liaison] being aware of it would be dealt with with an appropriate level of severity,” Reed said. “That will not happen in my administration, and if it did, there would be dire circumstances as a result.”

Reed reiterated the promise he made as a candidate that a raid like the Eagle would not take place under his leadership.

“As I said it, I will live it: Nothing like that will occur while I am mayor,” he said.


Read the full interview in the April 16 print edition of the Georgia Voice.