Members of the Atlanta LGBT Advisory Board will sit down next week with the mayor and police chief to discuss their dissatisfaction with the punishments handed down to officers involved in the controversial Atlanta Eagle raid.
Mayor Kasim Reed will meet with board members on Tuesday, July 26, and Chief George Turner will meet with the board on Friday, July 29. The meetings were requested after the LGBT Advisory Board held a town hall forum on July 13; they are intended to find ways to continue “in our work to strengthen the relationship between the LGBT community and the APD,” according to letters from the board to the mayor and police chief.
The board also plans to hold another community forum with Reed and Turner in attendance to discuss the 2009 raid on the Midtown gay bar and the ongoing fallout that includes six officers being fired recently for lying about what happened during the raid.
Atlanta Police LGBT Advisory Board to meet with mayor, police chief
The July 13 community meeting proved emotional for many in attendance, including patrons of the bar the night it was raided.
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.”
Molly Simmons, also a board member, was a DeKalb County police officer at one time.
“Unlike most of you in the room I have had the experience of being a queer police officer,” she said. “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 added.
City attorney explains punishments
The punishments handed down by the chief followed two scathing reports about officer conduct during and after the raid — one investigation by the Atlanta Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards and an independent investigation by law firm Greenberg Traurig.
Both investigations found numerous officers lied under oath about their actions during the raid as well as others who were found to have deleted cell phone evidence, going against a court order to preserve the evidence on their phones.
Amber Robinson, senior assistant city attorney in the Department of Law, attended the July 13 town hall meeting representing the Atlanta Police Department. She addressed several concerns raised by board members and those attending the forum:
• All officers who 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 Chief Turner remained on the force.
• 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.
‘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 at the July 13 town hall meeting.
“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.
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.
Reese McCranie, a gay spokesperson for Reed, asked people to email three changes they want to see within the police department to him at rmccranie@AtlantaGa.Gov.
Punishments against officers involved in the Eagle raid:
• Six officers were fired July 8 for being untruthful as found in the investigations: Lt. Tony Crawford, Sgt. Willie Adams, Sgt. John Brock, Inv. Bennie Bridges, Office Jeremy Edwards and Officer Cayenne Mayes. Two other officers charged with being untruthful, James Menzoian and Brandon Jackson, had already been fired as the result of unrelated investigations.
• Two officers were charged with truthfulness violations in the investigations but remain on the force: Dimitiri Jacques and Vincent Marcano. Police Chief George Turner dismissed those charges.
• Officer Jacques, who was with the now defunct Red Dog Unit, was found to have lied about never being arrested before. The investigations state that when he was 21 and living in Florida he was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and had revealed this on his APD application. Jacques also testified he never exchanged text messages about the raid, but a search of his cell phone records showed he sent a mass text message to all Red Dog officers stating, “Bro, no more fuckin gay jokes. For rear [sic] for real.”
• Officer Marcano, of the Vice Unit, also stated under oath he had never been disciplined as a police officer when in fact he has was found to have violated three work rule violations and received two oral reprimands and one written reprimand. Marcano was also found to have falsely imprisoned patrons of the bar by detaining them until their IDs were scanned and they were told they could leave.
• Eight other officers were disciplined at the same time the firings were announced: Sgt. Kelley Collier – 20 days suspension; Officer Robert C. Godwin – 2 days suspension; Officer Vincent Marcano – 2 days suspension; Inv. Timothy McClain – 4 days suspension; Officer Craig Condon – written reprimand; Officer Christopher Dowd – written reprimand; Officer Dion Meredith – written reprimand; Officer William Walters – written reprimand.
• A ninth officer, Major Debra Williams, the supervisor of the Red Dog Unit and the Vice Unit at the time of the raid, was demoted to lieutenant for her lack of supervision over the raid and for her incorrect public statements that it was common practice by the APD to run computer background checks on patrons, which is not according to the police department’s policy. She retired as a major on July 6, the day before her demotion was to go into effect.
• Three officers faced disciplinary hearings and on July 15 the APD announced the outcomes: Officer Jared Watkins – 4 days suspension, Officer Dimitri Jacques – written reprimand, Officer Dion Meredith – written reprimand.