The Atlanta Police Department's lead investigator in the Atlanta Eagle raid was arrested this week for driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of marijuana.
The news was first broken Saturday by Stephanie Ramage, former news editor at the Sunday Paper, who now writes her own blog.
Officer Bennie Bridges, 41, of the Vice unit was the lead investigator into the anonymous complaints that led to the Eagle raid in September 2009. Bridges was arrested in Cobb County on Thursday at about 3 a.m. The booking report shows that Bridges was arrested at I-285 East and Cobb Parkway and charged with speeding, DUI and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. He was released on $1,900 bond, according to the Cobb report.
APD spokesperson Officer Kimberly Maggart said Saturday night that Bridges is on administrative leave with pay.
"This matter has been referred to the department's Office of Professional Standards for investigation. Further comment on this specific incident would be inappropriate. However, Chief Turner expects Atlanta police officers to follow the laws they are sworn to uphold and enforce. Failure to do so will result in disciplinary action," she added in a statement.
Carlos Campos, spokesperson for the APD, confirmed Monday that Bridges was driving an unmarked city vehicle when he was arrested.
"Officer Bridges is still assigned to APD's Vice Unit (though, as noted before, he is presently on administrative leave with pay as a result of the arrest). The vehicle is assigned to him as part of his job duties," Campos said in a statement.
Atlanta police lead investigator of Eagle raid arrested
Bridges led undercover investigation into Atlanta Eagle
Bridges was the lead investigator in the raid on the Atlanta Eagle, a gay Midtown bar. More than 60 patrons were forced to the floor during the raid and searched illegally by members of the Red Dog Unit, which was called in for backup.
The investigation began into the Eagle after the Mayor Shirley Franklin’s office received an anonymous complaint that there was illicit sex and drug activity taking place at the bar. No patrons were arrested that night and eight employees were arrested for permit violations.
At the Municipal Court trial of the raid for the employees who became known as the “Eagle 8” in March 2010, Bridges testified for the prosecution how he visited the bar undercover on Sept. 10, 2009, hours before the raid.
He said he paid $5 that was later explained to be an exchange fee on Thursday’s “Underwear Night.” The $5 fee was paid and a drink ticket was given to patrons. Bridges testified he ordered four drinks that night but only took one sip from each drink and threw the drink away. He said there were about 40 to 60 people in the bar that night.
When the Solicitor’s Office prosecutor Larry Gardner asked Bridges to identify the defendants by pointing to them where they sat at the counsel table, Bridges misidentified assistant manager David Shepherd, dancer Robert Kline and former bartender Chris Lopez, which led Gardner to dismiss the charges against them during the trial. Gardner also dismissed charges against doorman Ernest Buehl, saying in all instances he dropped the charges based on his “discretion.”
On cross examination, Atlanta Eagle attorney Alan Begner asked Bridges if it was his idea to bring in three police vans and 25 officers from the Red Dog unit for the raid and to make the arrests for permit violations. No one was arrested for illegal sexual activity.
“When patrons are involved in illegal activity, we detain everyone. There were eight [undercover] officers and 40 people in the bar.” The Red Dog unit was called in for backup for safety reason, Bridges said.
“You didn’t see any patrons do anything illegal?” Begner asked him.
“No,” answered Bridges.
More than a dozen patrons of the bar sued the city for the raid in federal court saying their constitutional rights were violated during the raid. The city in December settled the suit for more than $1 million. As part of the settlement, the city is must also investigate each of the officers involved in the raid.
Bridges known to have history of alcohol-related issues with APD
The Atlanta Citizen Review Board has weighed in on the Eagle case in the past several months, recommending written reprimands and suspensions for the officers involved in the raid, including Bridges. Their recommendations must be approved or denied by Chief George Turner. However, Turner has not accepted any of the board’s recommendations to date.
The CRB also conducted its own in-depth investigation into the Eagle raid, finding many supervisors failed to know what was occurring and recommending they be punished with written reprimands and training on the Fourth Amendment. Read the full report here.
The CRB also found that Bridges had a past problem with alcohol. The findinc came during its June 2010 meeting, where the citizen board also sustained the allegation that David Shepherd was falsely arrested.
“Since 1991 [when he joined the APD], he has had 32 complaints … that include failure to appear in court, truthfulness, use of intoxicants and unnecessary use of force,” said Joy Morrissey, chair of the CRB and a lesbian. Morrissey said she believed Bridges’ days on the force were also numbered.
Those complaints included being disciplined for having alcohol on his breath one morning during training in the police academy. He was recommended to be kicked out of the force but a lieutenant overruled that recommendation.
In 1993, Bridges was in his personal vehicle and struck by another driver. Bridges pursued the motorist and detained the driver until police got to the scene. The person Bridges detained said Bridges kicked him while handcuffing him and fractured two of his ribs. For that infraction, Bridges was suspended for three days, Morrissey said.
Also, while off duty several years ago, Bridges was involved in a hit and run while driving drunk. He first lied to police saying he had been robbed at gunpoint and then later confessed that he was drunk and lied because he was afraid to lose his job. For lying, Bridges was suspended for 15 days, Morrissey said.
The news of Bridges’ arrest comes on the heels of two Red Dog officers involved in the Eagle raid being investigated for allegedly strip searching two men after a traffic stop.