How Atlanta argues against — and for — the Eagle raid officers 

The city fights the reinstatement of some officers it once defended — and may defend again

Last week, in a cramped chamber on the second floor of City Hall Tower, assistant city attorney Amber Robinson argued fervently before the Atlanta Civil Service Board that recently fired Atlanta police officer Willie Adams should remain off the force. Adams, a former sergeant with the department's now-defunct Red Dog Unit, faced multiple suspensions for his participation in the ill-fated and improper 2009 raid of the Atlanta Eagle. He faced termination, however, for lying about the events that took place inside the Midtown gay bar that September night.

"We cant be sure of his motive, but we know he knew it was untrue and he said it anyway in an official investigation," Robinson explained to the three-member board. Adams had given conflicting statements about whether he saw officers patting down and ID-checking bar patrons, how long patrons were detained, and whether patrons were permitted to sit up or forced to lie belly-down during the operation. For example, Adams says he gave his unit an order to allow detainees to sit up; there is evidence and testimony to the contrary.

Despite these facts, attorney Robinson is oddly positioned to argue Adams' professional misdeeds. She isn't representing the patrons and employees of the Eagle, but rather the city itself — the city that was Adams' co-defendant in past lawsuits, not to mention one in a suit still pending.

Robinson, who did not return calls seeking comment, was part of the team that initially defended Adams and the other involved officers, and she works for the department that will be responsible for defending them in the upcoming lawsuit. Should that case — filed by patrons who weren't included in an earlier lawsuit — go to trial, Robinson's efforts before the Civil Service Board will most likely be used against the officers the city will be charged with defending. Attorney Dan Grossman, who represents the victims of the Eagle raid, didn't mince words: "I'm happy to go on the record to say they [the officers] got shafted by the city. They did lie, they shouldn't have lied, but they got shafted."

The appeals heard by the Civil Service Board don't typically elicit much attention, probably because many don't realize that such a thing even exists (despite the fact it has the power to overturn the firings of city employees, including police officers). But if anything could create high-drama of an otherwise dull bureaucratic process, it's the Eagle raid. The improper, largely unconstitutional bust of the Midtown gay bar has resulted in three lawsuits, city payouts in excess of a million dollars, multiple court-mandated investigations and several police officer firings.

Former APD Sgt. Adams was one of three officers to appeal punishment associated with the raid in front of the Civil Service Board last week. Vice Unit Sgt. Kelly Collier, who was found to have ignored his responsibilities as a supervisor, appealed a 20-day suspension, but withdrew his appeal mid-hearing. Red Dog Officer Cayenne Mayes went before the board a day before Adams to fight against his firing for lying to investigators about several aspects of the case, including his contention that he didn't pat down patrons, even though the investigations determined he did. Individual charges aside, the officers who participated in the raid were found to have violated the Fourth Amendment by detaining the bar's patrons and forcing them to lie facedown on the floor for an extended period, even though none of them were suspected of having committed a crime.

At their hearings, both Mayes and Adams were represented by Mary Huber, an attorney hired by the International Brotherhood of Police Officers. "I've had jury trials that are less contentious," Huber said. If Huber was aggressive in her defense of the officers, then Robinson was ferocious in the city's condemnation of their actions. What wasn't addressed, at least during Adams' hearing, is that Robinson was once tasked with defending the officers. Nor was it mentioned that just a few weeks ago the city filed a response to a pending lawsuit describing the officers' actions in the Eagle raid as "reasonable" and "justified."

According to attorney Grossman, who represents the plaintiffs in that suit, the city's Eagle-induced split personality disorder constitutes a conflict of interest. (He and his co-counselor Gerry Weber recently submitted a letter to the law department pointing out the impropriety, but never received a response.) "They're on opposite sides in the hearings and in court — they're both prosecuting and simultaneously defending," Grossman says. "If you try to do both in different settings, you wind up saying something that damages your case in the other setting." Basically, every damning thing the city said of the officers in the hearings can be used against them if the next suit goes to trial. Huber says, "[Robinson] goes for the throat in these hearings, and it's under oath and transcribed — Dan Grossman is going to use that transcript."

Huber would likely argue it isn't the first time the city has thrown the officers under the bus (although, perhaps, not in those terms). Part of her defense during the hearings was that when the city settled in the first lawsuit, it didn't bother to consult with the individual officers about it. The settlement mandated an investigation, and that investigation resulted in widespread officer discipline.

It's unclear when the Civil Service Board will rule on last week's appeals. Last month, it rehired three police officers, two of whom participated in the Eagle raid (those firings and rehirings were associated with an unrelated case). The APD did not respond to whether or not those officers would be disciplined for the Eagle raid now that they've been rehired. Grossman admits he doesn't have much sympathy for the officers — particularly those who were found to have lied — but thinks the city should give them a real opportunity to defend themselves. "The city should pay for them to have separate counsel ... a lawyer whose loyalty is not divided," Grossman says. "Otherwise they're hanging these guys out to dry."


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