Mayor, Atlanta Eagle attorney share testy exchange at LGBT town hall forum

The forum, called by Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan of District 6 to discuss recent anti-gay crimes in the city, included APD Chief George Turner and the department’s LGBT liaison Patricia Powell.

And while the more than 90-minute meeting focused on questions from the audience about the relationship between the APD and LGBT residents of the city, Reed showed obvious disdain for Grossman’s assertion the city could have avoided the lawsuit with an apology to the patrons and employees of the bar.

“I think the record really should be clear … This case could have been settled for no money on the part of the city,” attorney Dan Grossman said. “So everything the city has said, and frankly everything you have said, mayor, that the reason the city has steadfastly refused to take responsibility for what happened was because of concern for financial impact on city — it’s simply disingenuous. Because it was made very clear at the very beginning this was not about money.”

Reed, who was sitting in the front row of Inman Middle School, where the forum was held, stood up and looked directly at Grossman.

“Since you addressed it, I’ll address it back,” Reed said.

“First of all, that’s impossible. I wasn’t mayor when this happened. When the Eagle raid took place and when all the conversations about the of appropriateness of an apology took place, I was not mayor,” Reed added. “I was a candidate for mayor. I issued an extremely strong statement stating my position as candidate for mayor letting my positions be known. (Reed’s statement at the time of the raid can be found here from Project Q Atlanta.)

“Now I am the mayor, I am the primary person with fiduciary responsibility for the city. My statements do take on a different impact. If there is a path that says that if hypothetically the mayor of Atlanta were to apologize to the GLBT community and that would resolve this without financial impact so city would move on, I am willing to entertain that now that I am mayor,” he added.

“But I deal with a lot of baggage. I stick my chin out and take the hits I am responsible for. But this did not happen under my watch. I did not condone it. I have asked the chief to bring this investigation to a close,” Reed said.

“I care very deeply what happened at the Eagle, very deeply. You know what I say as mayor has different repercussions.”

Reed walked out of the meeting right after his exchange with Grossman, although the meeting was not yet finished.

After the meeting, Grossman said he understands Reed is not responsible for the Atlanta Eagle raid. But, he added, Reed is responsible for what is occurring now. “What has been under his administration has been the city’s consistent refusal to apologize or be willing to accept responsibility for what they did even with minimum financial consideration — that’s done under his administration,” Grossman said.

“When I had the first meeting with the city attorney, when I made it very clear this was not a case about money and the case could be settled for minimal monetary consideration, as long as we had other things addressed, and the city attorney refused to consider that — that was under Mayor Reed’s administration, that wasn’t under Shirley Franklin,” Grossman added.

Grossman said the suit was intentionally filed before Reed took office because it was believed Reed would be willing to “to do the right thing.”

“We definitely chose to file the lawsuit before Mayor Reed took office and we think because the lawsuit was filed before he took office and for an event that happened before he took office, we were hoping it would be easy for the mayor to do the right thing,” Grossman said.

The exchange between Reed and Grossman was prompted after the forum’s final question was asked by Geoff Calhoun.

Calhoun was a patron of the Atlanta Eagle on Sept. 10, 2009, when it was raided by the APD. More than 60 people were forced to the floor and searched and had their IDs checked by members of the notorious Red Dog Unit, a paramilitary narcotics squad that night. Complaints filed against the APD range from allegations that patrons were treated roughly as well as anti-gay slurs were used against them by the officers.

Only eight arrests were made for business permit violations. In a trial in March, seven of those eight had their charges dismissed or they were acquitted. One person did not show up in court and a bench warrant was issued.

“I was in interested in the basis of the city of Atlanta’s refusal to simply apologize for violating the rights of so many people and why they’re still refusing to issue an apology for something that seems so cut and dry,” Calhoun asked.

Wan, who was a candidate when the raid occurred and is the only openly gay member of the council, said the city’s legal department is advising that city officials cannot apologize for the raid.

“I think part of the reason is what were being told by legal is while lawsuit going on … even if wanted to, we wouldn’t be able to be in a position to issue an apology,” Wan said.

“Even before the lawsuit was filed, all we asked for was an apology,” Calhoun interjected.

Wan responded that an apology was not so easy now that a lawsuit has been filed against the city.

“We understand, too, there could be additional ramifications or implications of guilt associated with an apology that might set the city up,” Wan said. “And while there was an investigation going on, and still going on, I just don’t think it’s appropriate for the city to take that position.”

“I’m not asking for an apology tonight,” Calhoun told Wan.

Wan then asked Chief Turner for an update on the Atlanta Eagle raid internal investigation.

“The internal investigation concerning the complaints on the Eagle bar — we have concluded that investigation. We are in the process of finalizing the write up,” Turner said. “The lieutentant is in the process of pulling all the facts together to summarize the investigation. Then we’ll move that forward to the law department to review it,” Turner answered.

After the meeting, Turner could give no timeline for when the investigation — now close to a year old — would be completed.

He said he would have to go over the write-up and then there may be the possibility of having to question and interview witnesses again.


Top photo: Atlanta Eagle attorney Dan Grossman (left) and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had a heated exchange at a community meeting held to discuss recent crime against LGBT Atlantans.