The on again, off again trial for the Eagle 8 is off—again. The eight men arrested in the Sept. 10 raid on the Midtown gay bar won’t get their day in court until mid-March.
The trial for the four employees and four dancers nabbed by the Atlanta Police Department in the controversial raid was set for Feb. 4. Last week, the trial seemed to be put on hold to make way for a conference call between attorneys and Municipal Court Judge Crystal Gaines, who is overseeing the proceedings. But that was later termed a misunderstanding by a representative from the judge’s office, who said the trial’s Feb. 4 court date remained in place.
On Thursday, an official in Gaines’ office told Project Q Atlanta that the trial is now being pushed back five weeks—to March 11. The official says that attorneys on both sides—defense attorney Alan Begner and the office of Solicitor Raines Carter, which is prosecuting the case—needed more time to prepare for the 30 witnesses expected to testify.
Begner confirms that he joined with the solicitor in seeking the additional time before the trial opens. He expects to call at least two-dozen witnesses and asked for the delay to continue preparing the case and to seek out additional witnesses to the raid.
“There’s a lot to prepare for in terms of having so many witness, but I am looking forward to trying it,” Begner says. “We intend to call as many people who were patrons and who we can get there to testify. If I can call 62 customers in to testify, I would put them all on. I think they saw the same thing.”
Begner says patrons of the bar on the night of the raid will corroborate what the eight men on trial have maintained – nothing illegal was taking place, and that if something was amiss with licenses for the dancers or employees, they should have been cited by the city’s licensing and permits unit, not arrested by police.
“I expect the police officers to not tell the truth about what they saw. I am hoping I can call to the stand as many people that will tell the truth about what happened as is possible to get into court to testify. If [the police officers] tell the truth, the case would never be brought. The proper thing would be to dismiss it and apologize,” Begner says.
The Eagle 8 were arraigned Nov. 3. Eagle co-owner Robert Kelley, bartender Chris Lopez, manager David Shepherd and doorman Ernest Buehl face business license charges. Dancers Leandro Apud, Anitonio Benitez, Thdareius Johnson and Robert Kline are charged with providing adult entertainment without a license.
The Sept. 10 raid ignited a firestorm of controversy over police tactics and prompted several elected officials and political candidates to call for an investigation. It resulted in a public forum with top commanders of the police department, who defended the raid, and three protests. The action also prompted a federal lawsuit, which was filed in late November.
The trial continues to draw interest from the public. Laura Gentle, who helped organize protests after the raid, is asking for people to take part in an Eagle 8 Day of Action. The Facebook group asks supporters to attend the trial and offers images that can be used as their profile photo.