The undercover investigations – conducted May 21 and June 11 – were prompted by two complaints, one lodged with the office of Mayor Shirley Franklin and the other with Crime Stoppers Atlanta, according to documents released by police on Monday after a press conference about the raid.
The first complaint, filed May 15, alleges that neighbors to the popular gay bar on Ponce de Leon witnessed sex parties on Thursday nights at the bar and that they “spill out in the neighborhood.” The complaint also alleges that bags with drug residue “are found strewn around a one block radius of the bar.”
The second complaint, lodged July 1, complained that the Eagle was opening for an after-hours party on July 5 during the Atlanta Bear Fest and employing “nude dancers to dance on the bars; sex will be permitted as at most circuit parties, drugs will be sold freely.”
When police visited the Eagle on May 21, officers reported seeing men engaging in sex in a backroom and dancers dressed in G-strings.
“I then went to the back room where I observed one male performing anal sex on another male and he was performing oral sex on a third male. While this was happening, several other males stood around and watched, several of them had their penises out and were masterbating [sic],” according to one incident report.
Again on June 11, officers reported witnessing sexual activity at the bar.
“When I walked in I could see three men on top of the bar. The three men were participating in anal and oral sex in the open so that other club patrons could watch. A large number of other patrons in the room were also conducting lewd sex acts with one another,” according to another incident report.
Officers also allege that dancers at the bar exposed their buttocks and caressed their genitals while receiving tips from patrons.
When nine undercover officers returned Sept. 10 – with a dozen uniformed officers and three paddy wagons staged nearby – one officer reported seeing “one dancer rubbing his genitals on the top of a patrons [sic] head as he sat the bar.” Another officer reported that a patron began chatting with him and “started to caress my chest and stomach. The male was telling me that I was sexy and then suddenly grabbed my penis through my jeans.”
But on Sept. 10, officers complained that “due to the lighting of the room,” they did not witness any sexual acts. Another officer reported that “I observed two men in what appeared to be a sexual act. A third officer reported “about 4 or 5 male patrons were gathered around another patron who was on his knees. This room was poorly lit, making it difficult to make out details.”
The documents released by police on Monday redacted the names of officers involved in the investigation, but included the names of the eight men arrested in the raid. Dancers were charged with providing adult entertainment without a permit, while employees were charged with operating a business without a license. The charges are violations of city ordinances.
The men were jailed overnight Thursday and released Friday. They appeared in municipal court Monday and their cases were continued until Sept. 29.
Eagle owner lashes out at police
Richard Ramey (photo), an Eagle co-owner, strongly disputes allegations from police that sex took place inside the bar.
“If an Atlanta police officer was in my bar and saw any illegal activity, they should have made arrests,” Ramey says. “If they saw it, why didn’t they make an arrest? All they are wanting to do is take the attention away from them and what their officers did.”
Ramey says he questions the accuracy of police statements that undercover officers witnessed sexual acts taking place during two previous visits to the bar earlier this year. The lack of evidence, combined with police saying no sex was seen on Thursday, demonstrates that their response during the raid was heavy-handed, he says.
“They have no pictures, they have no video. Probably the same officers that were in there on Sept. 10 screaming and hollering at people were probably the same ones saying they saw sex. They are not going to produce anything. They are making it sound like there are live sex acts going on and that is absolutely 100 percent bull,” Ramey says.
“They didn’t have to come in with such force and treat customers and employee the way they did. They did not have to make racial slurs and they didn’t have to detain 62 people on the floor for up to an hour,” he adds.
During the three undercover operations at the Eagle, officers report paying the bar’s $5 cover charge with city funds. Additionally, an officer reported spending $60 in city funds on July 17 in an undercover operation at the Eagle. The report did not detail how the funds were spent or why it was reported nearly a month after officers first visited the bar.
On Sept. 10, three officers reported spending a total of $150 in city funds at the bar without detailing the expenditures.
Complaints filed over police raid
The incident has since received harsh criticism, prompted a rally on Sunday that attracted hundreds of people and calls from several political candidates to investigate the raid. A second rally is being organized for Saturday.
Several political candidates questioned the raid in statements issued since Thursday, with some asking for an investigation into complaints that police mistreated people inside the bar. The gay Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, the Atlanta Libertarians and the National Stonewall Democrats have all condemned the raid.
On Monday, police officials announced that 10 complaints were formally lodged against the department alleging misconduct during the raid. Chief Richard Pennington and department spokespeople acknowledged the complaints, but would not comment further about them.
“Because the complaints have been formalized now, we can’t really talk about the investigation. They will be fully investigated by our Office of Professional Standards. Until that investigation has been concluded, it will tie our hands,” says Dani Lee Harris, the department’s LGBT liaison.
One of the complaints was filed by Robert Kelley, a co-owner of the Eagle. He was arrested during the Thursday raid.
On Friday, the police department issued a statement saying officers observed “criminal behavior” at the club. The statement also noted “there have not been any official complaints filed with the Atlanta Police Department.”
Office Otis Redmond, a department spokesperson, says there is no timetable for how long it might take the agency to investigate the complaints against it.
Pennington also announced that the department is considering video taping future investigations similar to the one the department conducted at the Eagle as well as others in which a warrant may be issued, Harris and Redmond say.
“We’re in the early, early stages” of considering the use of video in investigations similar to this, Redmond says.