Council Committee Holds Eagle 8 Resolution, Trial Postponed
(APN) ATLANTA — The Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee of the City Council of Atlanta voted unanimously to hold the resolution introduced by Councilman Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large) regarding the Atlanta Eagle during its meeting on Tuesday, January 12, 2010. Meanwhile, the trial against the Eagle 8 has been indefinitely postponed.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, Bond’s resolution would have offered an apology to the 62 patrons of the bar for civil and human rights violations related to a September 2009 raid by Atlanta Police Department of the establishment.
It also would have asked the court to consider dropping the charges against the Eagle 8, the four men who were dancing in their underwear without a permit and the four staff members. Attorney Dan Grossman told Atlanta Progressive News that the dancers were considered go-go dancers, but the city does not have a permitting process for go-go-dancers.
Bond had first introduced the resolution for immediate consideration at the Full Council’s first meeting of the new Session; however, the vast majority of members voted to refer the bill to committee after the City’s law department objected to its passage.
City attorneys–who primarily work for the Mayor–advised that the Council should not apologize for police mistreatment, when almost two dozen patrons have brought suit against the city for said mistreatment.
Eagle co-owner Robby Kelley, several staff members and patrons, as well as community advocates attended the PS/LA meeting last Tuesday to recommend that the Committee amend the bill to simply ask the court to drop the charges against the 8 patrons [and remove the language about the apology while the police mistreatment lawsuit is still pending].
However, Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong (District 5) asked the law department their opinion regarding doing that, and they replied that in their opinion it would be a separation of powers violation for the legislative branch to interfere with the judicial branch.
“Law department, the recommended course of action… the offer of apology, everybody’s being big boys and girls and understanding that may be untimely,” Archibong said.
“The question now presented very eloquently by most of the speakers who brought it up, specifically that we should in fact ask that the charges be dropped, I’m not comfortable with our authority in that mix. Help me out with that,” Archibong said.
“I have to agree with you on that,” the City’s attorney said. “There are charges pending against them in municipal court. Once you as the legislative branch start interjecting yourself into the matters of the municipal court, it raises issues about separation of power.”
“If there are issues–whether they be constitutional issues or factual issues regarding whether or not the prosecution should take place–I think that’s a issue the municipal court have to address as well as the solicitor with regards to his independent prosecutorial discretion as to whether those charges should continue,” the attorney said.
“I think that you are crossing the line, where you start making recommendations–especially with this issue–to the judicial branch that they drop charges,” the attorney said.
“We do hear you. And it is very disturbing and it’s very troubling for us. I think your message needs to be over with the new Acting [Police] Chief,” Archibong said.
Grossman told APN he did not agree with the city attorney’s logic because the Council could have still asked the prosecutor to consider dropping the charges. However, Grossman had waived his opportunity to make public comment before Council Members began their deliberation of the resolution, and did not appear to have an opportunity to make his opinion known to the Committee after that point.
Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd (District 12) made the motion to hold the bill. Originally, she had voted no on referring the bill to committee, apparently because she had originally supported filing the bill. Thus, she appears to have somewhat been swayed by the community’s testimony to hold instead of file.
“I heard everything you all said today in terms of what happened to you, I’m appalled by what I heard, I’m waiting anxiously to see all the facts and the findings, I’m just shocked… But again we have to hold,” Sheperd said.
Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean (District 8) seemed to be most interested in doing something more than simply holding the bill, but was apparently convinced by Council Members that it was the most appropriate action possible.
“Well, listening to citizens, it sounds like you’re not interested in having this held, it sounds like you’re interested in a new action… I don’t know why we would hold it because I don’t think that’s what they’re interested in,” Adrean said.
Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms (District 11) also said she was hesitant to recommend dropping the charges, but suggested the advocates have a conversation with the City Solicitor.
Councilman Bond as well as Councilman Alex Wan (District 6), while not on the Committee, also attended the meeting. After the meeting, Wan said he still thought there was something that could be done, but it was not immediately clear what course of action he was referring to.
While most community members who attended the meeting were disappointed that the committee merely held the bill, Councilman Bond stressed that he thought it was a positive thing because it meant the bill was still actively before the City Council for consideration.
Councilman Bond also said he thought it was positive that community members were able to get their message across to the larger public and noted that the City Solicitor, Raines Carter, was quietly sitting in the audience the whole time.
Committee Members also suggested that advocates go attend a meeting of the Atlanta Police Department with community members that was taking place the same evening. However, advocates were not interested in attending. Eagle co-owner Robby Kelley said he looked for the venue but could not find it.
Meanwhile, today, Project Q Atlanta reported that the trial for the Eagle 8, which was supposed to take place on February 04, 2010, has been postponed and not yet rescheduled.
APN confirmed the information with Eagle Co-owner Richard Ramey. Ramey said that there was a new prosecutor on the case and that the judge had asked to postpone the hearing.
Judge Crystal Gaines, Solicitor Carter, and Alan Begner, attorney for the Eagle 8, are planning to have a conference call next week regarding the case, Atlanta Progressive News can also confirm. The judge’s office asked to schedule the call, Ramey said.
The Eagle 8 include Kelley, bartender Chris Lopez, doorman Ernie Buehl, and off-duty manager David “Yuke” Shepherd, in addition to the four dancers, Leandro Apud, Anitonio Benitez, Thdareius Johnson, and Robert Kline.
Bond said he thought it was a good sign that the parties would be engaging in conversation, and an indicator that something positive may have come out of the resolution.
Ramey said he and others were surprised at the trial date’s postponement because Judge Gaines had previously been adamant about the February 04 date. He also said it was impossible to tell whether it meant the city was prepared to drop the charges.
A source familiar with the matter told APN that the previous prosecutor had wanted to drop the charges but that former Mayor Shirley Franklin had been opposed to it.
It is possible that after hearing the community’s testimony that the solicitor and/or the prosecutor realized that the case against the Eagle 8 was weak, that community support for pursuing the charges was low or nonexistent, and that continuing to pursue the case opened up the City to additional liability.
“What you’re not [currently] being sued for are the eight employees that were arrested,” Kelley had told the Committee.
“The eight employees that were arrested, were arrested on a violation that nobody is clear on. We should’ve as far as we understand it, been written a citation and left alone,” Kelley said.
“There is no definition to anybody’s knowledge of what a go-go dancer is in the City limits of Atlanta. Strippers need a permit. There is no statement anywhere in the City ordinance to anybody’s knowledge that a go-go dancer who is not stripping, but just dancing, has to have a permit in order to dance,” Kelley said.
“The employees working the door, the employee behind my bar, did not need a license to be there doing what they were doing, and did not deserve the ticket they got. My manager was off-duty and in his apartment upstairs… when APD knocked on the door, threatened to kick it in, and dragged him downstairs through broken glass over customers without even allowing him to put on his shoes,” Kelley said.
“Warrants were never issued. Warrants were never presented. We were never told why they were there. When we asked why [they] were there, we were simply told… to sit there and shut the fuck up. That is not how you talk to human beings,” Kelley said.
“None of what APD did from the second they stepped on to the Atlanta Eagle property was legal. None of what has been done since has been appropriate,” Kelley said.
Kelley noted that the City of Houston, Texas, quickly apologized after a similar incident happened at a gay bar in Houston last year.
“We would not be in this situation if [former] Chief Pennington or Shirley Franklin had enough sense to go… we messed up, we’re sorry,” Kelley said.
“It’s a little bit too late for y’all to be up there apologizing, I understand with the lawsuits pending… I do know that myself and several other employees of the Atlanta Eagle, if the case is thrown out of court, are more than happy to sign something saying, fine and dandy, everybody makes a mistake, life goes on, nobody needs to sue anybody, who cares?”
“I’m in a no-win situation. I’ve already paid way more than anybody should in lawyer fees to keep my bar open,” Kelley said.
“The maximum that you can get from me and these eight employees if you do this is 1,000 dollars a piece. I can pretty much guarantee you that if we go to court and I have to turn around and sue the City of Atlanta, you’re gonna get sued for more than that thousand dollars,” Kelley said.
“The only thing I’m asking you to do, don’t admit it was a mistake, don’t apologize to me, just drop the charges and let us move on with our lives,” Kelley said.
When asked today by Atlanta Progressive News whether an offer to not sue the City for damages related to the charges against the Eagle 8, if the charges were dropped, was still on the table, Ramey said he thought it was an “improper statement.”
Ramey said it was not up to Kelley whether or not to sue for wrongful arrest if the charges are dropped because there are eight separate tickets pending against eight separate people who would have to make that decision.
Kelley had previously said that if the charges are not dropped and the Eagle 8 are found not guilty–or if they should have merely received a 1,000 dollar fine–that he could sue for legal defense costs and the costs of having the club closed improperly the night of the raid.
One Eagle patron said he spent several thousand dollars bailing the eight out of jail; it is unclear whether any of that money could be recuperated. Then on top of that there is the possibility of wrongful arrest as it relates to the eight individuals.
Other speakers at the PS/LA Committee meeting were the present writer–Matthew Cardinale, News Editor of APN–as well as Chris Lopez, one of the Eagle 8 and staff members; Paul Swycord, who asserted a pattern of discrimination because he was recently arrested in a separate incident where he was hosting a party for the Atlanta Onyx, a Black, gay male leather society; Jeff Graham, Executive Director of Georgia Equality; and Derek Pollak, reading a statement from community activist Laura Gentle and also speaking on his own behalf.
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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