CRB Rules APD Falsely Imprisoned Eagle Bar Patrons

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With additional reporting by Xanna Don’t.

(APN) ATLANTA — Atlanta’s Citizen Review Board ruled on Thursday, September 09, 2010, that the Atlanta Police Department had committed false imprisonment against 62 bar patrons at the Atlanta Eagle, a gay leather bar in Midtown Atlanta, during a September 2009 raid.

On a related note, APN can reveal–based on interviews with two plaintiffs in the Eagle raid federal lawsuit–that the City of Atlanta has begun to inquire as to the possibility of a settlement, and that the City has asked plaintiffs in the lawsuit what they would want in the case of a settlement.

The ACRB meeting was held at 6:30pm. The five Board Members in attendance were Charis Johnson, Owen Montague, Alan Morris, Joy Morrissey, Sharese Shields, and Maceo Williams.

On the agenda was consideration of complaints filed by several bar patrons regarding abusive, homophobic language by police officers, as well as false imprisonment.

Whether the bar patrons knew it or not, all patrons were technically under arrest the minute they were forced on the ground and detained, attorney Dan Grossman has previously told Atlanta Progressive News.

The complaints included case number 09-34, Thomas Fast; 10-08 Matthew Pressley; 10-09 Thomas Hayes; 10-10 Geoffrey Calhoun; 10-11 Benjamin Cheaves; 10-12 John Curran; 10-13 Brian Hughes; 10-14 Robert Truetel, Jr.; and 10-15 Mark Danak.

Out of 62 patrons at the bar that night, only about two dozen have signed on as plaintiffs in the separate federal lawsuit against the City of Atlanta, and an even smaller number, 12, filed complaints with the ACRB.

As previously reported by APN, the ACRB ruled in June 2010 that the APD was guilty of the false arrest of manager David “Yuke” Shepherd, who was upstairs in his private apartment at the time.

Since then, the ACRB also ruled in August 2010 that the APD [although it is not clear which officers] were guilty of using abusive language in the complaints filed by Eagle co-owner Robby Kelley and doorman Ernest Buehl.

At this most recent meeting, the ACRB voted on the remaining 9 Atlanta Eagle cases.

ACRB investigator Addington told ACRB Members that the Board’s staff had reviewed police actions that night, saying the complainants were “searched, patted down” and they were “prone, face down” on the floor.

Addington said they had their ID’s checked by computer and notes that “circumstances corroborated” a timeline of 11—11:45 pm for the detention of the bar patrons. Although, Atlanta Progressive News, having witnessed the raid from the parking lot, can attest that the dancers and staff members weren’t taken away nor did the police officers leave until around 1am.

Some IDs were taken by force, others were asked, Addington noted. The IDs were returned and the patrons were allowed to leave as a “staggered event.”

Based on this, he concluded “20 minutes to 1 hour detention.” During this time, he described that the complainants heard abusive language including “profanity, homosexual and racial” slurs.

A total of 24 officers are facing accusation including: Sgt. John Brock, Sgt. Willie Adams III, Sgt. Kelley Collier, Officer Melonie Mague, Officer Robert Goodwin, Officer Stallone Davis, Investigator Bennie Bridges, Officer Jeremy Edwards, Officer Dimitri Jaques, Officer Dione Meredith, Officer James Menzoian, Officer Cayenne Mayes, Officer Christopher Dowd, Officer Craig Condon, Investigator Herman Glass, Investigator Timothy McClain, Officer Brandon Jackson, Officer Marlon Noble, Officer Stephanie Upton, Officer William Porter, Officer William B. Walters, Officer Vincente Marcano, Officer Darnell Perry and Officer Jared Watkins.

Addington said all these officers denied using any abusive language. As previously reported by APN, the Committee on Council of the City Council of Atlanta had to approve subpoenas in order for the officers to even agree to testify before the ACRB. Since then, the Council has given the ACRB its own power to subpoena officers.

He said “the officers provided different times” than the complainants, but gave accounts consistent with the searches and the patrons not being allowed to leave.

Addington said the officers explained that the patrons were detained “so that warrant checks could be conducted” and admitted that individuals were “not suspected” of crime.

“Two individuals [patrons] were involved in actions that could be illegal,” but the police “could not identify” who they were, Addington said.

Addington said complainants “were not free to move or allowed to leave,” in violation of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution of the US.

ACRB staff, including Executive Director Cristina Beamud and at least 2 investigators, recommended to the ACRB board that the false imprisonment complaints should all be sustained, but that the abusive language complaints should not because the patrons could not identify specific officers making the slurs and no officers confessed to making them.

“Reporting complainants could not identify” the officers who used abusive language “based on their positions on the floor and bar lighting,” Addington said.

However, several patrons asked officers to identify themselves during the raid by providing their names and badge numbers, but the officers allegedly responded with more refusals and profanity.

At that point, Board Member Shields noted that at the last ACRB meeting in August, Roderick Edmond had recommended to sustain the language complaint against the APD supervisor only and that the Board voted on it and passed that recommendation.

“We don’t have a way of knowing who said what,” but “we know the words were said,” Board Member Morrissey said.

Board Member Morris inquired about the status of the APD internal investigation by the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), and Addington responded that the investigation had been completed two months ago but that the APD had not released the results to the public.

Then, the Board unanimously voted to approve the false imprisonment charges against all officers. Upon further discussion, the Board also approved the abusive language charges against the APD supervisor.

As to the recommendation for disciplinary penalties for the officers, the ACRB decided last month to conduct a study to determine the feasibility of recommending a penalty even stronger than a letter of reprimand or three-day suspension. Typically, the ACRB’s penalty recommendations mirror those called for by APD’s own policies, but they are not required to limit their recommendations as such.

The study will look at which supervisors signed off on the raid and will follow up the chain of command to determine who is accountable and who was involved in the decision-making.

The study will also look at the standard operating procedures of the APD and whether they were followed.

As previously reported by APN, the APD has expressed surprise at the public criticism of how it conducted the Eagle raid given that this is how it conducts all of its raids.

Therefore, the significance of the decision is not only that it finds the APD guilty of violating citizens’ constitutional rights during the Eagle raid, but that it calls into questions the City’s standard operating procedure and practices.

“If you recall the Kathryn Johnson situation, we did a more in-depth study on that. This is the same type of in-depth report,” Board Member Williams told APN in a phone interview, “so that we can know a more in-depth manner of what went down from the first second to the last second.”

“Nobody’s given ownership of the comments that were made. Nobody given ownership of putting people on the ground. Nobody can point to a particular officer,” Williams said, expressing frustration.

“Events was done, and still nobody’s saying what officer said what,” Williams said. “At the same point, the officers are not saying that they did anything either.”

When asked whether he believed stronger disciplinary recommendations should be made, “Personally, yes,” Williams said.

When asked whether the study was worth the extra time it would take to conduct when the raid already happened over a year ago, “I don’t think it should take that long,” Williams said.

The ACRB has estimated the study will be complete in November and that the Board will revisit disciplinary recommendations for the officers at that time.

“I believe in people’s rights. I want to see the right thing come out. Some people think it’s slow, some people think it’s fast, that’s the difference in people,” Williams said.

“They [APD officers] came because they had to come because of the subpoena. They stuck together there- what they had to say and what they didn’t have to say,” Williams said.

Eagle patron Johnnie Curran told APN he was pleased with the ACRB findings and votes.

“I actually feel pretty vindicated, and that’s been a long time coming,” Curran said. “I know most of the community has been behind us, and of course our attorneys are on our side, and it’s nice to have this third party entity sort of agree with us and realize we have been treated so wrongly.”

Curran said he was torn as to whether the study was a good idea.

“One of them said they felt that a three day suspension was not a severe enough punishment for what we endured at the raid… and part of what they wanted to find out [in the study] is who the sergeants were and who is accountable, and I have to agree with that,” Curran said.

“That’s what they’re hoping to find out, but I’m not certain they’re going to be able to. Part of me thinks they should’ve decided then and there because they’re not going to find out,” Curran said.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Ramage at the Sunday Paper magazine wrote on her blog that APD was hanging its lower-ranking police officers out to dry.

“The highest ranking cop involved [of the 24 charged] was a sergeant, which should give one pause: How is it possible that a raid involving dozens of cops, three transport vehicles and coordination between special units and zone commanders could have been the handiwork of only a sergeant and his underlings?” Ramage wrote.

“I don’t believe for a minute that a gay bar on Ponce de Leon was raided at the height of a mayoral election season without some higher-ranking poobah having a hand in it,” Ramage wrote.

“Yet again, the low-ranking cops of the APD take the fall for the higher ups,” Ramage wrote.

(END/2010)

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