Three Atlanta police officers are under investigation and will likely face disciplinary action after allegedly conducting a body cavity search on one man and groping another in the street during a traffic stop. Two of the officers are members of the Atlanta Police Department's Red Dog Unit and were part of the September 2009 raid on the Atlanta Eagle, a gay bar on Ponce de Leon Avenue.
The Atlanta Police Department released a statement that an internal investigation, which is now nearing conclusion, showed "inappropriate" behavior by some officers and Chief George Turner plans quick discipline "up to, and including, dismissal."
“Who wants another man touching their… any parts of them …without justice,” Brian Kidd, one of the alleged victims, told WSB. His friend was made to undergo a body cavity search while standing in the middle of the road, Phillips reported. The incident occurred June 30.
Mark Bullman is the attorney for the two men. Dan Grossman, lead attorney for the Atlanta Eagle plaintiffs, is co-counsel.
“I’ve heard many stories of citizens who were strip searched in public by officers of Red Dog,” Grossman told WSB.
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 last month for more than $1 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.
In a complaint filed with the APD’s Office of Professional Standards, Kidd described what happened when he and roommate Shawn Venegas were stopped by APD Officers C. Mayes, D. Meredith and T. Britt. Kidd and Venegas were driving in Venegas’ car the way to Kidd’s girlfriend’s house.
The two men said they were followed by police and then pulled over and searched in the middle of Windsor Street, without being able to pull over to the side of the road. The officers said they were looking for drugs, which were not found, according to Kidd’s complaint.
“I saw Officer Meredith pulled Shawn’s pants forward and look into the front of his pants and underwear and then pull down his pants down from behind, but then I looked away because of what the officer was doing to Shawn,” Kidd said in the complaint.
“Later Shawn told me that Officer Meredith touched him in the genitals during the search and made him spread his butt cheeks apart. This really upset Shawn. Officer Britt made me pull my pants and my underwear out so he could look in them, and he did not find anything. They did not find anything on Shawn either,” Kidd continued.
Kidd reported that he was arrested for an outstanding bench warrant in DeKalb County, then searched again.
“Officer Britt told me that I was under arrest for the warrants and put handcuffs on me. Whilemy hands were behind my back, he opened my belt and pants and reached inside my underwear and searched and touched my testicles and found nothing illegal. I was shocked that the officer would put his hands down into my pants and touch my testicles like this. After I was searched, the officer took me to the police car.”
In the OPS complaint, Kidd notes that all charges from DeKalb were later dismissed except for driving without a license. He paid a fine and the case is closed.
Venegas’ complaint offers similar details, and states that the officers approached the pulled-over car with guns drawn.
“Officer Mayes pulled my pants open in the front and looked down into my pants, then he didsomething that shocked and really upset me,” Venegas wrote in the complaint. “He put his hands down into my pants and felt in the area of my testicles. He found no drugs or anything else illegal in my pants or otherwise.”
Venegas said that the officers searched his trunk without his permission, then Officer Meredith searched him again.
“First the officer checking my pants pockets again and looked into my pants in the front, again. Then, like Officer Mayes had done, he reached into my underwear and felt inside my pants. Next, he grabbed the back of my pants and pulled them and my boxer shorts down, in the middle of the street in downtown Atlanta. Then he spread my butt cheeks apart, and I guess he looked in my butt. He found nothing, and then he humiliated me even more by telling me to pull my own butt cheeks apart, so he could look even better, into my butt. I was so scared and upset. Again, they found no drugs,” Venegas stated in the complaint.
Venegas was eventually charged with failing to stop at a stop sign. The incident has destroyed his faith in law enforcement officers, he said in his complaint.
“These officers, without a warrant and without probable cause, held me against my will, pointed a gun at me, slammed me into my car, searched my car without permission, searched my body without permission, humiliated me on a public street and treated me like a common criminal when I had done nothing wrong, charged me with a traffic offense which I did not commit and then, without any apology or explanation simply told me that it was just what happens, as if they had done nothing wrong,” he said.
“These officers violated me physically and destroyed my trust in police officers who I have always respected.”
The complete statement from the Atlanta Police Departments says all three officers are on administrative duty pending the conclusion of the internal investigation:
The Atlanta Police Department is in the process of concluding the internal investigation into this matter. There is evidence to suggest that some of the officers’ actions during this traffic stop were inappropriate. As a result, Chief Turner intends to move swiftly to discipline some of the officers with actions — up to, and including, dismissal. All three officers involved have been placed on administrative duty in non-enforcement capacity pending disciplinary decisions. The Atlanta Police Department expects its officers to be truthful at all times, to follow all policies and procedures and to follow all of the local, state and federal laws they are sworn to uphold. Failure to do so will not be tolerated.”