Mayor Kasim Reed on Wednesday called a federal lawsuit stemming from the police raid at the Eagle a “serous threat” to the city, but the comments came as he also continued his support of a probe into the September incident.
In a written statement, issued only to WSB-TV, Reed (top photo) criticizes the lawsuit as “asking for unlimited punitive damages at a time when the City is facing considerable budget challenges.”
“As the chief financial steward of this City, I have to take that threat very seriously,” Reed says in the statement.
WSB reported the two-sentence statement as part of a story that aired Wednesday about developments in the lawsuit and an investigation into complaints of police misconduct by the Atlanta Citizen Review Board. The lawsuit was amended on Wednesday to add six plaintiffs and to identify by name 35 officers who took part in the raid.
Also on Wednesday, officers involved in the raid began answering questions from the ACRB, which is investigating 13 complaints of police misconduct.
Project Q Atlanta included Reed’s statement from the WSB report in a story published Thursday morning, characterizing them as “a marked departure from the more measured response that has typified [Reed’s] reaction to the case since taking office in January.” But Reed’s comments to WSB were actually much longer than the portion aired during its report on Wednesday.
On Thursday, communications staffers for Reed provided his full statement to Project Q and the GA Voice. In it, Reed expresses support for the ACRB investigation but again airs concerns about forcing police officers to testify before the panel. The ACRB has been locked in a tussle with the Atlanta Police Department and Reed’s administration over the issue, which prompted the Atlanta City Council earlier this month to issue subpoenas to 18 officers involved in the Eagle raid to compel them to answer questions.
The full statement from Reed:
“I support the role of the Citizen Review Board (CRB) to serve as an independent forum where complaints and accusations against police officers can be assessed. But I think it is critical to understand that the CRB only has limited civil administrative review powers and has no power over police discipline. It is not a court of law and is not intended to substitute for any form of legal action against the Police Department or the City.
In this situation, it’s important to note there is both an active internal investigation and a civil suit pending against the officers and the City stemming from the incident at the Eagle Bar. The plaintiffs in this case are asking for unlimited punitive damages at a time when the City is facing considerable budget challenges. As the chief financial steward of this City, I have to take that threat very seriously. If the officers testify before the CRB while the city is facing a lawsuit, their testimony could provide the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the suit with two opportunities to hear testimony from the officers. Providing the plaintiff’s counsel with two bites at the apple could jeopardize the City’s ability to defend itself against the active civil lawsuit.
That said, I am eagerly awaiting the findings of the investigation because I personally want to know what happened at the Eagle Bar that night as does everyone else. I am always troubled to hear about allegations of police misconduct or verbal abuse regarding sexual orientation.
This is an incident that occurred before I took office, and it is an issue my administration has inherited. Now, as Mayor of Atlanta, I hope to see the CRB serve both our citizens and sworn officers by making substantive recommendations to me, the City Council and Interim Police Chief George Turner. Those recommendations can include additional training for officers and changes in existing policy around discipline, policies, procedures, and programs.
I also think one key mission of the CRB is to help develop positive relationships between Atlanta residents and their police officers. I hope that the CRB will take this critical responsibility seriously and help be a part of the solution to problems that detract from the safety and security of both our residents and our sworn officers. I will support the CRB wholeheartedly in that endeavor.”
Much of Reed’s statement mirrors his recent comments on the Eagle case – the he supports an independent investigation, which he called for last September as a mayoral candidate; that it’s a situation he inherited when he took office, which he said during a press conference on his second day in office; and that he’s concerned that testimony by officers before the ACRB could hurt the city’s position as it fights the lawsuit, which he said during a press conference in February.
But the statement did not repeat Reed’s stern comments from a January press conference in which he pledged to take “appropriate action” if an ongoing investigation and lawsuit shows that the police department acted inappropriately.
In his statement this week, Reed also went further than he has in previous comments on the Eagle case in calling the lawsuit a “serious threat” to the city.
Daniel Grossman (second photo), an attorney who helped file the lawsuit, countered on Thursday in an interview with Project Q that the suit is about changing the policies of the police department, not seeking a financial windfall from the city. That echoes public comments made by Robert Kelley, an Eagle co-owner who has repeatedly said since the raid that what he wants from the city is an apology.
“This case is not about money, it is about changing policies,” Grossman says. “It’s about getting the city to agree to a consent order, enforceable by a federal court, that they will follow the law in the future in regards to search, seizure and first amendment protections. They have refused to agree in writing, enforced by a federal court, to follow the law. Until they are willing, in a legally binding way, to admit that their police officers will obey the constitution, how can you settle the case?”
Reed’s statement to WSB-TV also opened a rift with the GA Voice. The newspaper requested a comment from Reed on the lawsuit for a story it published in its March 19 issue. But the mayor declined through a spokesperson to comment, only to later issue the written statement to WSB on the same matter.
That didn’t sit well with the newspaper, which blogged about it on Thursday.
Perhaps the mayor, who had condemned the Eagle raid in statements during his campaign, had hoped to avoid talking about the federal lawsuit but realized that would be impossible when TV came calling. Or maybe he knew his take on the case — that it is a financial “threat” — would find a more receptive audience with mainstream viewers than with LGBT Atlantans.
Reed’s communications staff then provided the statement it issued to WSB to the GA Voice, and later to Project Q.
This afternoon we heard from Sonji Dade, Mayor Reed’s communications director, who reached out with concern to clarify that the mayor is not valuing any news organizations over any others, and that he is very committed to being open to the media and working with us in the future. We appreciate the gesture and look forward to bringing you news from the mayor’s office.