Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Councilmembers hear community outrage over Eagle raid

Posted By on Wed, Sep 16, 2009 at 4:17 AM


Members of Atlanta's gay community came to City Hall Tuesday afternoon to voice outrage over and demand answers about the controversial Sept. 10 police raid at the Atlanta Eagle.

"Everyone's concerned that this will continue to go on," Midtown resident Laura Gentle said to members of the Atlanta City Council's Public Safety Committee. "If this can happen at the Eagle, this can happen at any venue in Atlanta. This is not just a gay rights issue."

Last Thursday, 21 officers — acting on undercover officer reports and anonymous complaints alleging sexual activity at the Eagle — raided the popular Midtown gay bar and arrested eight employees for providing adult entertainment without a proper license.

More than 60 patrons were ordered to the ground and searched during the raid. Approximately 11 complaints have been filed by Eagle patrons and employees accusing officers of using anti-gay comments and rough treatment, among other claims.

Chief Richard Pennington, who said the raid was the result of a three-month investigation into the bar, publicly apologized on Monday and promised a full investigation into alleged officer misconduct. But citizens still have questions.

Gentle said the talk of dancing permits was "a waste of time." If the APD was concerned about illegal dancing, she said, it should have approached the Eagle's owners about the issue — not dispatch "three paddy wagons and 21 officers for 62 innocent people."

"[The APD has] failed to make a connection between the charges that led to the raid and what they actually arrested the eight people there for," she said. "That's what we're concerned about. We want answers to that as a community. Make that connection for us, because we don't understand it."

Grant Park resident Brad Ploeger thought the raid was a waste of resources and questioned the APD's leadership.

"When has the [Atlanta Police Department] made the investigation of allegations of public sex between consenting adults in private clubs in Atlanta a greater priority than the crime that is happening on our streets?"he asked. "I know that the reports have come out that violent crimes are down in the last year, but property crime is up — crimes with victims. The victims here were the 62 people who had to lie down on the ground for over an hour — because of an allegation."

Midtown resident Patti Ellis, whose son is gay, told committee members that the raid and officers' alleged actions have caused her to worry that city's taken steps backwards when it comes to gay rights. She questioned why the department was focusing its resources on a gay bar when she and fellow Midtown residents were afraid to walk down the street.

"Why aren't these undercover officers standing around my street corner looking at these people coming up with guns?" Ellis asked.

She told councilmembers that the community wants more answers about the raid — including who authorized it — and whether homophobia exists in the department's ranks. Ellis said she and her husband had fought for years for her son's right to be gay, and was disappointed such an incident could happen in a city as diverse as Atlanta.

APD Deputy Chief Carlos Banda — who was unable to answer some questions because of the department's — told councilmembers that the Eagle wasn't targeted because it was a gay bar. He noted that officers have conducted similar raids at six Atlanta bars and clubs in the last several months — none of which, to his or councilmembers' knowledge, served a predominantly gay clientele. Those include: Pleasures, Gold Rush, the Candy Shop and Playground in Southeast Atlanta, Foxy Lady on Moreland Avenue, and the Masquerade on North Avenue.

Banda told councilmembers that the department's Office of Professional Standards has received 11 complaints about the Eagle raid. Because each complaint must be handled separately and includes multiple interviews, the cases might not be resolved until late December or January — news that was met with disappointment by residents in attendance. Ploeger of Grant Park said the new mayor will have already appointed his or her pick for police chief at that time.

Councilmembers Anne Fauver and H. Lamar Willis said Eagle patrons who think they were unfairly treated by officers could also file a complaint with the Citizen Review Board, which can request council re-examine laws.

"As much as we say we don't want this to happen again, the real way you do that is by making policy changes," Willis said.

(Photo by Thomas Wheatley)

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