Atlanta Eagle Awarded $1M for Police Raid
The Atlanta city council has agreed to million-dollar settlement more than a year after four-dozen police officers stormed a gay nightspot and allegedly forced patrons to lie facedown on the floor in handcuffs and endure background checks during an hour-long search.
The police raid descended upon the Atlanta Eagle on Sept. 10, 2009, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recalled in a Dec. 6 article. The raid was reportedly triggered by reports of sex and drugs at the establishment; the Eagle had hosted an "Underwear Night" on the evening of the raid, according to a Dec. 6 GA Voice article.
A suit brought on behalf of 19 of the 62 patrons reportedly detained that night alleged that police not only had no search warrant, but they also used anti-gay insults on some of the patrons in the course of detaining, searching, and running background checks on them, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article said.
A criminal case against eight Eagle employees fell apart last March, with some of the accused being acquitted and the charges against others being dismissed. with acquittals. That development followed months of stonewalling by police, who refused to cooperate with the Atlanta Citizen Review Board, which had launched an investigation into the raid.
"The union’s stance is we’re still going to protect officers’ due process rights no matter what the members of the citizen review board have to say about that," said the Atlanta Police Union’s Lt. Scott Kreher at the time. "We’re going to have them follow the [standard operating procedures] of the department, which requires them to go down but doesn’t require them to testify." Kreher went on to point out that not only was an internal investigation ongoing, but a civil suit had also been brought against the department.
Bar owner Richard Ramey, who was not charged, took issue with how the raid reportedly went down. "Our problem is with the way our customers were treated," Ramey told the Journal-Constitution in a Sept. 12, 2009 article, published just two days after the raid.
"I’m thinking, this is Stonewall. It’s like I stepped into the wrong decade," bar patron Nick Koperski told the paper at that time.
"Before I knew it I was being handcuffed," said bartender Chris Lopez. "[The police] were going from patron to patron, having everyone turn out their pockets."
But the case came to naught in court, when Municipal Judge Crystal Gaines found three defendants not guilty of license violations. Charges against the other five were then dropped. "We always thought from the beginning that we were charged for no reason," Ramey said. "They had no right to be there."
Prior to the unanimously approved settlement of $1,002,500, a resolution to apologize to the bar’s patrons for the "indignities which they experienced as a result of the September 10, 2009, police raid" stalled in committee, EDGE reported last January.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said that the settlement also mandated revisions in the police department’s procedures. The money will go into escrow pending final approval from a federal court.