A citizen review panel says that two-dozen Atlanta police officers falsely imprisoned more than 60 people during the Eagle raid last year, the third time the panel has ruled against police in the case.
But for the second time, the Atlanta Citizen Review Board stopped short of calling for sanctions against the officers. Instead, the panel opted to launch a two-month study of what its chair calls “systemic” problems within the Atlanta Police Department that led to the raid on Sept. 10, 2009 raid before it recommends punishment for the officers.
“We are not going to exonerate what they did – not at all,” says Joy Morrissey (top photo), the board’s chair and a lesbian. “We are gong to take a look at not just the incident, but the people who supervise them. We want to take a look at what’s gone wrong in the chain of command. These officers are being put to blame for something they were ordered to do.”
On Thursday, the board voted unanimously to uphold complaints from nine Eagle patrons that officers falsely imprisoned them during the raid. About two-dozen people celebrated the ruling during a quiet remembrance of the first anniversary of the raid late Thursday outside the bar.
Atlanta police ended a months-long undercover investigation at the Eagle by storming the bar with two-dozen officers and the agency’s paramilitary Red Dog Unit. Eight men were arrested while patrons inside were handcuffed and forced to lay face-down on the floor. Several patrons complained to the ACRB and Atlanta police that they were verbally abused and illegally detained.
But the board did not uphold complaints that police used abusive language, arguing that those who complained could not identify specific officers. Instead, the board upheld the abusive language complaints against three supervisors at the scene.
In August, the ACRB sustained allegations of abusive, anti-gay and racist language by police leveled by Eagle co-owner Robert Kelley and doorman Ernest Buehl. But because the people who complained of the misbehavior couldn’t finger specific officers, the board didn’t dish out any punishments. Instead, like last Thursday, they opted to wait on issuing sanctions.
In June, the board recommended sanctions against two officers involved in the raid and sustained a complaint that one of the men was falsely arrested; police Chief George Turner has taken no action on the sanctions.
Geoffrey Calhoun, a police dispatcher in metro Atlanta and an Eagle patron during the raid, calls Thursday’s actions by the ACRB “a small victory.” Calhoun is one of the nearly two-dozen people detained in the raid that joined a lawsuit against the city and police claiming violations of federal and state laws.
“It was so obvious and blatant – the violations of the Atlanta police,” Calhoun says. “This isn’t the 60s. Everyone has rights and those are the rights they violated. It lets people know that today in this age that you can stand up for your rights.”
Daniel Grossman (second photo), an attorney handling the lawsuit with Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta and the Southern Center for Human Rights, applauded the ACRB for its decision.
“They reached the obvious conclusion – you can’t just take dozens of people who are not even suspected of a crime and throw them on the ground, seize them, search them and keep them there for 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half,” Grossman says. “Everyone seems to know that except the APD. And now the Citizen Review Board has reached the same conclusion everyone has reached. I just don’t know why the APD won’t realize it.”
Two of the 24 officers named in the Eagle complaints – Sgt. John Brock and Investigator Bennie E. Bridges – were among those found on Thursday to falsely imprison bar patrons. The ACRB singled the two men out in August when it said supervisors of the raid should receive the harshest recommendations of punishment. The two were behind the botched trial of the Eagle 8 that resulted in most of the charges being dropped or the men being found not guilty.
The 24 officers named in the complaints: Sgts. John Brock, Willie Adams III and Kelley Collier; Officers Melonie Mague, Robert Godwin, Stallone Davis, Jeremy Edwards, Dimitri Jacques, Dione Merideth, James Menzoian, Cayenne Mayes, Christopher Dowd, Craig Condon, Brandon Jackson, Marlon Noble, Stephanie Upton, William Porter, William B. Walters, Vincente Marcano, Darnell Perry and Jared Watkins; and Investigator Bennie E. Bridges.