The Atlanta Citizens Review Board on Thursday sustained allegations of abusive, anti-gay and racist language used by Atlanta Police Department officers during the botched raid of the Atlanta Eagle last year. But the board chose not to make recommendations for disciplinary action until more investigations into complaints by employees and patrons were completed.
The Eagle is a gay bar located on Ponce de Leon Avenue. It was raided in September 2009.
Citizens Review Board: Police used abusive language in botched Atlanta Eagle bar raid
At the Citizens Review Board Aug. 12 meeting, board members also agreed that once the Eagle investigation is completed, the supervisors of the raid should receive the harshest recommendations of punishment.
The board went against the staff’s recommendation to not sustain the allegations made by Atlanta Eagle co-owner Robby Kelley and doorman Ernest Buehl. CRB Executive Director Cris Beamud said that because the staff’s investigation could not identify specific officers using the abusive language, as required by the board’s policy, it could not recommend upholding the allegations.
Board members, however, said it was apparent abusive language was used because of the number of patrons in the raid who have said so.
“I disagree with the recommendations of the staff. Irrespective if they can’t identify any officers, there was an overwhelming sense of oppression and entitlement to abuse people,” said board member Roderick Edmond. “I believe there was abuse suffered by everyone there.”
The CRB’s investigator, Marc Addington, told the board that Kelley said in his allegation that profane, homophobic and racial slurs were used the night the APD and its Red Dog Unit raided the bar on Sept. 10, 2009. The abusive language included, “Shut the ‘F’ up,” when officers were asked what was happening as well as their badge numbers and their names.
Addington said he and the CRB staff conducted interviews with approximately 24 officers that were a part of the raid.
“All officers interviewed denied using abusive language,” he said.
Addington said other patrons of the bar were interviewed as well, who all said abusive language was used. But the patrons said they would have a hard time identifying specific officers because the bar was dark and they were all forced to lie on the floor during the raid as officers searched them and ran their names through a computer for background checks, Addington added.
Kelley was able to correctly identify one Red Dog Unit officer who he alleged used abusive language — Brandon Jackson — who he said told him to “Shut the ‘F’ up,” Addington said.
Kelley also identified another officer who he said told him, ‘You’re a fag and you have no rights.” However the officer he identified was a “filler” officer in the photo lineup and was not part of the raid, Addington said.
CRB Board Member Maceo Williams noted that Kelley said he asked for badge numbers of officers and was denied and that Kelley said he heard the phrase, “Raiding a fag bar is fun. We should do this every week.”
Even though Kelley could not identify correctly all officers in the raid, that does not mean abusive language was not used, Edmond said.
“The whole notion that we’ve got dozens of people who heard abusive language used and the police saying that didn’t happen — I personally believe the complainants,” he said. “I strongly recommend the supervisors receive the most harsh punishment and we recommend that when the time comes.”
Addington said there were four supervisors at the raid: Sgt. Kelley Collier, Sgt. John Brock, Sgt. Willie Adams of the Red Dog Unit and lead investigator Bennie Bridges. Kelley and Buehl, who attended Thursday’s CRB hearing, were not completely satisfied with the board’s actions.
“I think the decision to postpone [recommending disciplinary action] is another way of avoiding the issue,” Kelley said.
Kelley said he looked at 32 officers or alleged officers in the photo lineup and correctly identifying one was an “accomplishment” considering he was in a dark bar, he was watching officers kick in doors and also witnessing his customers “being treated like animals.”
“I was hoping to get some satisfaction tonight with the officer I identified,” he said.
Buehl said he believes the CRB is trying to do its best.
“The board is not able to do their job because of undercover agents doing their dirt in the dark. I think they’re doing what they can,” he said.
Dan Grossman, along with Lambda Legal and the Southern Center for Human Rights, is representing dozens of Atlanta Eagle patrons and employees in a federal civil suit against the city and numerous APD officers. Grossman believes the CRB is on the right track by attempting to focus on the supervisors of the raid.
“I was really impressed with their focus on the responsibilities of the supervisors in the raid,” he said after Thursday’s meeting.
“I thought that was really very significant that they are considering very severe discipline against commanders. I think that was a very key thing that happened at the Eagle — the lack of supervision. They [officers] were doing were what they told. There were following Atlanta Police Department policies. There were senior officers there in charge.”
Grossman was also impressed the board appeared to believe the complainants over the police officers.
“It’s also interesting [the board] noted dozens of civilians who were at the Eagle also tell basically the same story and it’s really not credible to believe the police officers in the face of dozens of people saying the same thing — and the board picked up on that,” Grossman said.
In June, the board reviewed a complaint by David Shepherd, assistant manager of the Atlanta Eagle. Shepherd accused Bridges and Brock of false arrest. He was in his apartment upstairs above the bar when the raid occurred.
Beamud said at the June 10 public meeting, “This man [Shepherd] was guilty of watching TV.” The board sustained Shepherd’s complaint and recommendations were made to Chief George Turner for disciplinary action against the officers; the chief has yet to respond, however.
In March, the eight employees arrested in the raid, known as the Eagle 8, went on trial for license and permit violations. Bridges and Brock both testified at the trial. Bridges misidentified several of the defendants who had their charges dismissed during the course of the trial. Charges were dismissed against Shepherd, bartender Chris Lopez, Buehl and Robert Kline. Kelley and dancers Thadeus Johnson and Leandro Apud were found not guilty. Dancer Antonio Benitez did not appear in court and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.