The Atlanta Police Department will disband its controversial Red Dog Unit in 60 days, Chief George Turner announced at a press conference this morning.

The paramilitary-style unit had come under scrutiny for its supporting role in the 2009 police raid on the Atlanta Eagle, a gay bar on Ponce de Leon Avenue, and recent complaints from two men that Red Dog officers — including two who also took part in the Eagle raid — subjected them to a strip search on a public street in broad daylight.

The Red Dog unit will be replaced by a new elite unit that has yet to be named, Turner said. The new unit will focus chiefly on violent crime, whereas the primary focus of Red Dog was street-level drug activity. Current Red Dog officers will have to apply to be part of the new unit, and will have to meet stringent standards including physical fitness and being free from any sustained complaints against them, Turner said.

Atlanta police to disband controversial Red Dog Unit

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed attended the press conference and said the decision to replace Red Dog was Turner’s, and not dictated by the mayor’s office. Reed reiterated his support for Turner and the Atlanta Police Department.

Despite complaints involving Red Dog officers, Turner said at the press conference that the disbanding was not prompted by the recent allegations.

The raid on the Atlanta Eagle in September 2009 was conducted by the APD’s Vice Squad which called in the Red Dog Unit for backup. Patrons in the bar that night, who later sued the APD including many Red Dog officers, said members of the paramilitary unit used anti-gay slurs against them, used excessive force, and searched them without probable cause. None of the patrons were arrested during the raid.

The city settled a federal lawsuit with the Eagle plaintiffs in December for $1.025 million. The settlement also included reforms to APD’s standard operating procedures by mandating no more illegal search and seizures, as well as an internal investigation into all of the officers involved in the raid. The investigation is set to be concluded by May.

Richard Ramey, co-owner of the Atlanta Eagle, said today that he is pleased that the Red Dog unit is being dismantled.

“I’m relieved the new city officials, the mayor and the police chief, see the need to make the changes. I’m glad they did it — I’m glad they finally recognized there was an issue,” he said.

“The citizens and visitors to Atlanta will benefit. There are probably good officers in the Red Dog unit, but [others] need to stop violating the civil rights of people. These people need to be in Afghanistan or Iraq — we are a city that is not under siege,” Ramey said.

The Atlanta Citizen Review Board, an independent body, last week made public its full investigative report on police actions during the Atlanta Eagle raid.

The citizen board recommended punishments ranging from 3-day suspensions, written reprimands and Fourth Amendment training to all the officers involved in the raid to written reprimands and Fourth Amendment training for supervisors of the raid. One supervisor, a sergeant, was recommended for a 30-day suspension without pay for being “untruthful” during the CRB’s investigation.

The APD LGBT Advisory Group, created in the wake of citizen frustration about the Eagle raid, sent Chief Turner a letter last week asking him to follow the recommended punishments for the officers and supervisors of the raid.

Turner said at today’s press conference that he could not give a timeframe for when he would respond to the Citizen Review Board’s recommendations for officers involved in Red Dog and other units.

The federal court settlement that ended the Eagle lawsuit required the Atlanta Police Department to perform a new investigation into the officers involved in the raid, Turner said. The investigation is ongoing and Turner will wait for the results before deciding on any punishments for officers involved, he said.

“Clearly after the settlement was done, it forced our investigation back to a different point, so we had to do various different things after the settlement and we are in the process of completing that investigation,” Turner said. “Where we are with that is that we are moving aggressively… We have to go back in and reinterview all of the complainants according to the actual settlement, as well as the other officers, so we are working on that.”

The Red Dog unit was created in 1987 and named after the football move of “blitzing” a quarterback, according to a fact sheet distributed by the Atlanta Police Department after the press conference. The “idea was to pressure drug dealers, users and criminals associated with drug violence,” according to APD.

The unit’s name was later used as an acronym for “Running Every Drug Dealer Out of Georgia.”

— Dyana Bagby contributed

Top photo: Atlanta Police Chief George Turner announced that the controversial Red Dog unit would be disbanded in 60 days. (by Laura Douglas-Brown)