Court finds city of Atlanta in contempt for not implementing police trainings mandated after unconstitutional Eagle raid

A federal judge has found the city of Atlanta in contempt of court and imposed numerous sanctions for the city’s failure to properly train police officers as mandated in a lawsuit settlement following the unconstitutional raid on the Atlanta Eagle in 2009.

The sanctions include paying nearly $50,000 in attorney fees to plaintiffs’ attorneys Dan Grossman, Gerald Weber of the Southern Center for Human Rights, Greg Nevins and Beth Littrell of Lambda Legal, and Albert Wan.

“Making sure that APD is trusted and accountable should be a top priority for the City, not something that judges are forced to twist arms to make happen. These reforms make law enforcement better,” said Weber in a prepared statement.

Added Grossman, “Instead of implementing court-ordered changes that would benefit everyone in Atlanta, including meaningful training of police officers, City Hall has defied and obstructed these changes for almost half a decade. The Court has made it clear that the City’s defiance must end and these reforms must be accomplished.”

In 2010, the city settled with patrons of the Atlanta Eagle, a Midtown gay bar, for $1 million. As part of that settlement, the city promised to properly train officers on such procedures as the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizures; wearing visible name tags at all times; prohibiting officers from interfering with the public’s right to photograph, videotape and make audio recordings of police activity; documenting warrantless detentions, frisks, and searches; and requiring the APD to rule on citizen complaints of police misconduct within 180 days.

However, attorneys for the Atlanta Eagle discovered the city was not complying with the court-ordered mandates and in March filed a motion for contempt against the city. The hearing for that motion was held on May 5.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten stated in his order dated May 19 that the city has failed to comply with portions of the mandated settlement and “that the city has not established that its failure to comply was legally excusable, and the court notes that counsel for the City conceded at the hearing that the City was, in fact, in violation of certain sections of this Court’s order.”

“It is terribly unfortunate that over five years after the Atlanta Police Department’s inexcusable conduct in the Atlanta Eagle that we are still in court dragging the APD towards more competent and safe policing,” said Nevins in a statement. “We know there are many members of our community who are frustrated by the  violence and discrimination by the police, but Lambda Legal  will continue to  stand up against misconduct by police and hold them accountable.”

Judge Batten ordered the city to complete the mandated training on the Fourth Amendment within 90 days. Also, attorneys for the plaintiffs are authorized to monitor this training for six years.

The judge also ordered:

• Within 20 days, the city shall amend the APD’s Standard Operating Procedure dealing with dress code to include a section stating that any Atlanta police officer who is in uniform must, at all times, wear a visible name tag—the only exception to this requirement is a rain slicker or a traffic direction vest;

• On or before May 22, the city shall provide plaintiffs’ attorneys with a spreadsheet indicating each complaint of police misconduct made after Dec. 8, 2010, and the result of the complaint;

• Within 60 days, the city shall implement a form for officers to use when documenting warrantless seizures and documentation of ID checks and also make sure these documents are available to the plaintiffs’ attorneys and also maintained “as a public record, routinely available for public inspection by electronic or other means”;

• Within 20 days the city shall amends its standard operating procedure to restore the following language that was removed in 2013:

Officers may detain an individual only when they have reasonable articulable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal activity. If, following the stop, the officer reasonably believes that the person is both armed and presently dangerous, the officer may frisk for weapons.