News

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‘Eagle 8’ trial prosecutor fired for not paying bar dues

Larry Gardner, prosecutor against the Eagle 8 has been disbarred

The prosecutor of the Eagle 8 trial has been fired after it was learned he had not paid his State Bar of Georgia dues, according to a statement from the Atlanta Solicitor’s Office.

The GA Voice learned Larry Gardner, a prosecutor for the Atlanta Solicitor’s Office, had not paid his bar dues when the Eagle trial occurred in March 2010, which is necessary to practice law in Georgia. By not paying dues, attorneys are put on administrative suspension.

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Ga. Supreme Court to hear case of gay man convicted of murder

The case of Samuel Mitchell Abernathy goes before the Supreme CourtThe case of a gay man convicted of killing a man who allegedly called him and his boyfriend “faggots” will go before the state Supreme Court on Monday.

The state is appealing a White County judge’s ruling granting a new trial to Samuel Mitchell Abernathy. Abernathy was convicted of stabbing and killing Darrin Ramey after Ramey called Mitchell and his partner at the time, John Geren, “faggots.” The incident occurred in the parking lot of the Southside Bar in Helen, Ga., in January 2008.

Mitchell was convicted in November 2008 of malice murder and sentenced to life in prison.

According to a press release from the state Supreme Court, Abernathy said he was jumped by Ramey and acted in self-defense. Abernathy and Geren were both charged with murder but the state dropped its charges against Geren after he agreed to testify against Abernathy.

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Atlanta organization lands federal HIV/AIDS grant

The Atlanta AIDS Partnership announced a $250,000 grant from the White House's Social Innovation Fund through AIDS United (formerly the National AIDS Fund). The grant, one of 10 given to HIV/AIDS organizations around the country, will go to providing HIV care through primary health care providers in Atlanta’s most affected communities.

According to the Atlanta AIDS Partnership, transportation issues and the stigma of visiting an AIDS service organization prevent many people living with HIV/AIDS from getting the care they need to live a healthy life. In an effort to address the imbalance, the grant money will be directed to free and low-income clinics as well as toward federally qualified health care centers.

“Increasing the ability of smart, effective organizations to reach more individuals is critical to the work of The Community Foundation,” Alicia Philipp, president of the Atlanta AIDS Partnership, said in a press release. “As a local partner in this effort, our role is to bring resources to meet the demand in our region to help tackle an issue that affects so many in our communities.”

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Atlanta police to disband controversial Red Dog Unit

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner

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.

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Atlanta police lead investigator of Eagle raid arrested

The Atlanta Police Department's lead investigator in the Atlanta Eagle raid was arrested this week for driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of marijuana.

The news was first broken Saturday by Stephanie Ramage, former news editor at the Sunday Paper, who now writes her own blog.

Officer Bennie Bridges, 41, of the Vice unit was the lead investigator into the anonymous complaints that led to the Eagle raid in September 2009. Bridges was arrested in Cobb County on Thursday at about 3 a.m. The booking report shows that Bridges was arrested at I-285 East and Cobb Parkway and charged with speeding, DUI and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. He was released on $1,900 bond, according to the Cobb report.

APD spokesperson Officer Kimberly Maggart said Saturday night that Bridges is on administrative leave with pay.

"This matter has been referred to the department's Office of Professional Standards for investigation. Further comment on this specific incident would be inappropriate. However, Chief Turner expects Atlanta police officers to follow the laws they are sworn to uphold and enforce. Failure to do so will result in disciplinary action," she added in a statement.

Carlos Campos, spokesperson for the APD, confirmed Monday that Bridges was driving an unmarked city vehicle when he was arrested.

"Officer Bridges is still assigned to APD's Vice Unit (though, as noted before, he is presently on administrative leave with pay as a result of the arrest). The vehicle is assigned to him as part of his job duties," Campos said in a statement.

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Citizen Review Board releases full investigative report on Atlanta Eagle raid

The Atlanta Citizen Review Board released today to the public its full investigative report on the raid of the Atlanta Eagle by the Atlanta Police Department.

And on Thursday, the LGBT Advisory Group sent Chief George Turner a letter asking he follow the recommended punishments to the officers and supervisors of the September 2009 raid.

The recommended punishments range 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.

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Arson of gay Carrollton man’s home may be hate crime

Carroll County man victim of arson that might be considered a hate crime

Chris Staples says he is still trying to wrap his head around the idea that someone would try to kill him.

The gay Carrollton man had his home vandalized and then burned down; he was asleep at home when the fire began and barely escaped.

“I feel like I’m sort of in a cave, still in shock,” Staples told the GA Voice. “I haven’t shed a tear, haven’t gotten mad.”

Staples, 43, was inside his small home in Carroll County on Sunday, Jan. 23, when he said a rock with an anti-gay note attached was thrown through his window. Hours later, Staples said he woke up to find his home engulfed in flames. Carroll County is some 50 miles west of Atlanta.

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By the numbers: Valentine’s Day

581,300

Estimated gay couples in the United States as of 2009.

6

U.S. jurisdictions that currently allow gay marriage: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.

6

States that give benefits to same-sex couples under a different label like “civil union” or domestic partnership: California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Illinois.

29

States with constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Georgia passed a constitutional gay marriage ban in 2004.

28

Nations that grant more rights to same-sex couples than the United States, ranging from marriage to domestic partner recognition.

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Ga. legislature silent on LGBT issues in new session

State Senator Vincent Fort promises to push for LGBT-friendly bills in the General Assembly

Despite concerns that new Gov. Nathan Deal might support legislation that would negatively affect LGBT Georgians, no specifically gay bills — positive or negative — have been filed since the legislature convened Jan. 10.

“There has been a lot of controversy in the Senate as usual, and the immigration stuff has started off with a bang,” said state Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), who is the senior openly gay state legislator. “I don’t know how many bills they’re up to now, 15 maybe. Then of course the budget hearings, and so the shortfalls are coming to light, and the tax bills.”

Deal has released his budget, which does not include any cuts to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which helps low income HIV-positive individuals and those with no insurance afford their medications.

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Mayor speaks out more about changes to Atlanta Police Department

Mayor Kasim Reed says there needs to be a change in the culture of the Atlanta Police Department after continuing complaints have been made against the controversial Red Dog Unit.

In an interview with WABE's Jim Burress, Reed said the future of the APD "may or may not include Red Dog."

Two men have alleged that three Red Dog Unit officers pulled them over and forced them to pull down their pants. The men also said they were fondled by the officers. Read the official complaints the two men filed here.