CRB Recommends Sanctions Against Officers in Eagle Raid False Arrest

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By Xanna Don’t, Special to The Atlanta Progressive News

With additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale, News Editor

(APN) ATLANTA — On June 10, 2010, Members of Atlanta’s Citizen Review Board (ACRB) assembled to discuss a complaint filed by David “Yuke” Shepherd for his False Arrest on September 10, 2009, as part of Atlanta Police Department’s (APD) controversial raid on The Eagle, a gay leather bar in Midtown that has been in business for over 23 years.

The Board concluded that Shepherd’s complaint should be sustained and recommended sanctions against the two police officers who led the raid. The sanctions were that Detective Bennie Bridges would receive a letter of reprimand and that Sgt. John Brock would receive a three-day suspension.

Their finding and recommendations were sent to Acting Police Chief George Turner in the form of a three-page letter dated June 14, a copy of which was obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

This was the first of several complaints filed with the ACRB by Eagle patrons and staff that the Board is reviewing.

As previously reported by APN, 7 of the 8 Eagle staff and dancers who were arrested by APD, including Shepherd, were found not guilty or had their charges dropped in court on March 11, 2010.

What made the complaint filed by Shepherd unique is that he was literally not in the bar at the time of the raid; he was upstairs in his private apartment when he was dragged downstairs by police officers.

Shepherd was optimistic about the Board’s finding.

“It’s a small victory,” he told Atlanta Progressive News. “But this shows the police were in the wrong and that the people of Atlanta seem to be supporting us. The APD doesn’t seem to punish their officers unless they’re pushed, until their hand is forced.”

“The police should know they’re in the wrong,” Shepherd said.

APD Interim Chief George Turner has 30 days to respond to the ACRB recommendations, and is not required by law to uphold them.

ACRB DISCUSSES CASE PRIOR TO TAKING VOTE

The June 10 Board Meeting was scheduled to begin at 6:30 pm, but lacked a quorum until the arrival of Roderick Edmond at 7:40 pm.

During the long lull, some discussion was permitted by Joy Morrissey, Board Chair. About ten members of the public were in attendance.

Seth Kirschenbaum, a criminal defense attorney and CRB member since its inception three years ago, was finishing his term that evening. He described the entity as “a stealth board,” adding, “Most people in Atlanta don’t know this Board exists.”

Indeed, a recent report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper found that City Hall receptionists in the Mayor’s office of constituent services did not even know what the ACRB was when asked by the AJC for the location of their office. The AJC also noted the sign on the ACRB office door said “RISK MANAGEMENT.”

Kirschenbaum joked the audience of about 10 people was the largest they’ve had to date. He reflected on the Board’s accomplishments including its selection of Executive Director Cristina Beamud, once a law enforcement officer herself who served as a police department attorney for ten years in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Morrissey chimed in with the ACRB’s latest accomplishment: the completion of its report on the death of Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year old woman gunned down by APD officers executing a no-knock warrant based on a faulty tip.

The report “should be given to all new [ACRB] Board Members and police officers,” Morrissey said.

At 7:30 pm, still with no quorum, Morrissey moved the discussion to the key item on the evening’s agenda. “I’d like to get into the Eagle bar incident.”

Morrissey said she had reviewed the disciplinary records of the two lead police officers during the raid and was “not happy” with what she read. She then asked Kirschenbaum for an update on the Eagle.

“There’s something beyond the complaint before the Board,” he contended.

The undercover APD investigation into an anonymous patron complaint about being solicited for sex at The Eagle was initiated on May 21, 2009, and again on June 11, 2009, by APD’s Vice Squad, he said.

However, it was not pursued again until the September raid conducted by two departments of the APD–Vice and the Red Dog Unit–working in conjunction, he said.

“Brock and Bridges were there because they were told to be there,” he concluded. To have two police departments working together, “There had to be supervision,” he said.

Kirschenbaum then compared the SWAT-like raid on The Eagle to the Abu Ghraib prisoner-of-war torture scandal in Iraq and pleaded, because the meeting was his last, for the remaining Board Members not to limit exploration of forthcoming Eagle-related complaints to the street level.

“It would be a mistake to just punish officers who were basically just following orders,” he said. “This Board has the ability to follow up the chain of command.”

The arrival of Board Member Rod Edmond–combined with the attendance of Members Kirschenbaum, Morrissey, Charis Johnson, and Alan Morris–finally constituted a quorum, allowing the debate to begin.

“HE WAS IN HIS OWN HOME”

The first determination to be made was whether Shepherd’s complaint for False Arrest [defined in the letter to Chief Turner as “an arrest without probable cause to believe a crime has been committed”] was valid.

“The language [of the adult entertainment ordinance] includes employees,” Edmond said. “[Shepherd] admitted he was an employee. Policemen are policemen and not lawyers.”

But Morrissey disagreed. “I don’t want to go down that path. He was in his own home.”

No one has disputed that on the night of the Eagle raid, Shepherd was at home watching television in his apartment, which happened to be upstairs from the Eagle bar.

Two police officers banged on his door, entered his foyer, and told him to come downstairs. He complied.

Board Member Charis Johnson demurred the issue was “not easy, not cut and dried,” and considered, “Maybe there was a reason [to arrest Shepherd].”

“Police don’t have to be right. It doesn’t have to [result in] a conviction,” Kirschenbaum said.

However, Board Member Alan Morris agreed with Morrissey. “[The police] wouldn’t have gone two blocks down [to arrest Shepherd],” he said.

“Shepherd wasn’t mentioned in the earlier [police] reports,” Kirschenbaum said, adding, “Who made the decision to arrest Shepherd?”

Morrissey referred to the arrest report and told the Board it was signed by Det. Bridges and approved by Sgt. Brock, and that it stated Shepherd “had to leave” his apartment.

With 13 Eagle-related complaints in total before them, Kirschenbaum exasperated, “This is the most complicated case we’ve ever had,” and suggested a “plenary investigation” to consolidate them all together.

“Now we have the subpoena power,” he boasted, referring to a recent decision by the City Council of Atlanta to allow the Board to compel unwilling police officers to answer their questions. “We can hold the first hearing this board has ever had.”

On May 17, 2010, the Council agreed to provide the ACRB with subpoena power. As previously reported by APN, the ACRB used to have to go to the Committee on Council to get subpoenas approved, and the Committee had approved several requests already.

The motion to allow the ACRB its own subpoena powers passed the Council almost unanimously, with Councilwoman Carla Smith (District 1) being the only Member to oppose it. Mayor Kasim Reed’s Administration had failed to provide an opinion on the motion and had requested more time to study it. However, Councilman Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large) stated in an impassioned speech, “We’re not here to play house. We’re here to legislate.”

However, ACRB Member Alan Morris disagreed with consolidating the cases despite their new subpoena powers. Each citizen deserves their own consideration, he said, arguing the complaint before them was “pretty cut and dried” for him.

Edmond asked for the precise language police used to remove Shepherd from his apartment. “Told to leave? Asked to leave?”

“Had to leave,” Morrissey replied.

“He was home watching television. The rest is irrelevant,” Director Beamud interjected. “If he was on the stairway, I would still think it was a False Arrest,” she said, reiterating that none of the previous police reports ever mentioned Shepherd.

At 8:20 pm, Morrissey motioned for a vote. Kirschenbaum again objected to moving forward without a hearing.

“Tonight it’s the time to move on with this,” Morris said.

Any more information from police would come “a year later” and therefore would not be “better” information, Edmond said.

Voting commenced with Kirschenbaum, Morris, and Edmond agreeing to sustain. Johnson voted no. [As Board Chair, Morrissey would only have voted if there was a tie.] Thus, Shepherd’s complaint was deemed valid.

SANCTIONS RECOMMENDED

Morrissey gave the Board an overview of Bridges and Brocks’ disciplinary files. Since 1992, Brock had received 21 complaints against him, including failure to appear [in court] and lack of courtesy, commenting that Brock’s record “pales in comparison” to that of Bridges.

Since 1991, Bridges complaints numbered 32; 12 of them were sustained, including charges of excessive use of force, troubles with truthfulness, and use of intoxicants. He was cited as being drunk while training at the police academy which almost resulted in his dismissal. He also chased a car that hit his car and broke the driver’s ribs. And most spectacularly, Det. Bridges’s file includes a drunken hit and run accident that he lied about and eventually recanted, a compound offense that resulted in a suspension from duty of 15 days.

Options for penalty recommendations for the offense against Shepherd, False Arrest–which falls under abuse of authority, a Class B violation–ranged from written reprimand, training, counseling, detoxification programs, and a suspension of 1 to 3 days.

Bridges was discussed first with Edmond recommending a 1-day suspension. Johnson countered with a written reprimand. Kirschenbaum agreed with Johnson, noting that Bridges had no complaints since 2006 and most of his “egregious” transgressions were early in his career.

“I would recommend the least,” he proposed.

Morrissey wasn’t sure she “believed in the least” for him, but conceded he “may not be the same person today.”

A motion for a letter of reprimand was passed.

In considering Brock’s recommendation for penalty, the overwhelming factor for a more stringent action was his rank. Although ACRB’s investigator revealed it was Bridges who led the briefing of the two units three days before the raid, as Sergeant, Brock was also considered guilty of failure to supervise, another Class B violation. Morris motioned for a 3-day suspension and a quick vote was unanimous.

But there was vital information missing from the Board’s deliberations. They had no records of testimony from The Eagle 8 trial of March 11, which resulted in dismissals and acquittals for the seven accused who made it to court that day, including Shepherd. If they had reviewed transcripts or video of that proceeding, they would have known that Detective Bridges admitted on the witness stand he had been drinking during the raid [although he claimed to take only a sip of each drink before throwing them away] and that he misidentified defendants.

When confronted with this information by the lead reporter on this story, after the penalty recommendation votes, Board Members seemed shocked.

Edmond admitted if he’d known about Bridges drinking during the raid, he would have been harsher on him. Other members said if the letter of reprimand seemed too light for this complaint, there were a dozen more Eagle-related complaints to consider in the coming months.

When told about the omission of Eagle 8 testimony in the deliberation of his complaint, Shepherd replied, “That is pretty surprising. I think they should have considered it. It seems like they would want the whole story to base their opinions on.”

When told about Det. Bridges’s complete disciplinary history, Shepherd surmised, “It seems like they’ve given him a lot of chances. It’s time they take further action.”

According to Georgia Voice magazine, the ACRB will next take up the complaints filed by Eagle co-owner Robby Kelley and doorman Ernest Buehl at its July 8 meeting.

In related news, the City of Atlanta law department recommended a 20,000 dollar settlement in a case brought by Minnie Carey, a 62 year-old woman who had also brought an ACRB complaint against an APD officer, Brandy Dolson, who falsely arrested her for asking “Why,” when the officer told her to move away from a sidewalk where she had been standing with her friends. The ACRB recommended sanctions in that case as well, but Interim Police Chief George Turner rejected them.

(END/2010)

About the author:

Xanna Don’t is the Editor of Don’t Label It, an Atlanta ‘zine, and is reachable at dontlabelit@gmail.com. Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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Our syndication policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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