Eagle reports: Police raid was botched mess

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READ MORE | Report from Greenberg Traurig (pdf) and Atlanta police internal investigation (pdf)

imageTwo long-awaited and much-delayed investigations into the police department’s Atlanta Eagle raid in 2009 show just how botched this operation really was: They criticize not only officers and their department, but city attorneys and even the jail.

In other words, the reports confirm what patrons inside the bar during the Sept. 10, 2009 raid already knew. They also reiterated what the public has learned in nearly two years of a steady stream of details that have come out through repeated press conferences, police denials, and a federal lawsuit that was settled for $1.025 million with promises of reforms for the Atlanta Police Department and improved training for its officers.

Late Tuesday – a day after a deadline set by a federal judge — Mayor Kasim Reed’s office released two reports – the Atlanta Police Department’s internal investigation and another from the high-powered law firm Greenberg Traurig that were mandated in the settlement terms of the federal lawsuit.

The takeaway: The raid violated the Fourth Amendment rights of patrons and employees, and violated several provisions of the police department’s Standard Operating Procedure. Potential prejudice and bias, inadequate planning and training, a failure in command staff oversight and involvement, a breakdown in communication between command staff and officers, and a lack of effective coordination between the City Law Department and the police agency all contributed to the problems found in the raid, Greenberg Traurig said.

“The reports conclude that most of the officers involved in the operation did not conform to the APD’s standard operating procedures,” City Attorney Cathy Hampton said in a statement released late Tuesday.

imageHampton also said that Reed and police Chief George Turner (second photo) will review both reports and that Turner will “determine appropriate disciplinary action in short order.” Reed, who in the past has pledged swift action if wrongdoing was found in the Eagle raid, has not spoken publicly about the Eagle reports. Turner has repeatedly rejected calls from the Atlanta Citizen Review Board and his own LGBT advisory board to punish officers in the raid, saying he’ll revisit those recommendations once the internal investigation is wrapped up.

In its 343-page report, Greenberg Traurig also says the findings won’t repair the damage done by the raid.

“GT is aware that its investigation and conclusions may not offer complete comfort to the patrons and employees that were involved in or witness to the Eagle Raid on September 10, 2009, to the important gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community that resides in or visits the City of Atlanta, or to other citizens of Atlanta. Nor may this report serve to repair the damage to the reputations of officers associated with this incident and litigation who committed no wrongdoing, especially those who were named as defendants but were never present at the Eagle Raid,” the report says.

Greenberg Traurig also concluded that several factors, including “the sensitivity concerns
presented by dealing with a gay establishment,” should have mandated that a police lieutenant was on hand to supervise the raid. Lt. Tony Crawford, a commander of the Vice Unit that oversaw the raid, has said his presence wasn’t warranted and didn’t review plans for the raid before it took place.

imageThe internal investigation by Atlanta police sustained 42 violations of the police department’s operating procedures involving 26 officers. Some 10 officers were cited for lying about the raid in subsequent investigations, including the chief architects of the raid and undercover investigation leading up to it – Sgt. John Brock (fourth photo) and Inv. Bennie Bridges (third photo).

Its 48-page report also indicates that an internal investigation into the raid was completed before the federal lawsuit was settled, despite claims from police officials that it couldn’t be publicly released because it remained under review.

S&M stigma, drinks, violent sex and other findings of Eagle reports

Those risky leather daddies and bears. Brock, when asked why he ordered patrons to lay face down on the bar floor, offered this: “There’s a risk factor involved when you’re dealing with people you don’t know anything about. S&M, that – that has a stigma of some sort of violence.” Oh, and this: “In the past I have as a patrol officer handled calls where there are gay couples living in residence where one is mad at the other, and they slash clothes, furniture, anything they can do. They’re very violent.”

Bootylicious sex. Officer Jeremy Edwards offered this insight: “Seeing another man have sex with another man in the ass, I would classify that as very violent.”

The thin blue wall. Even in a controversial raid, police officers support one another. Among the nearly 60 patrons inside the Eagle during the raid was an off-duty police officer from Tennessee. When Atlanta police confirmed his identity, he was released while others were forced to lay face down on the bar’s floor.

Injuries during the raid. Mark Danak suffered cuts and was bloodied when he was forced to lay on the floor that included glass from a beer bottle broken during the raid. A second person also was forced to lay in broken glass, but did not report any injuries. Doorman Earnest Buehl suffered an apparent anxiety attack during the raid and was treated at the scene by paramedics. Once booked into the city jail, he was taken to the hospital and remained there for three days.

The case of the missing cash box. Buehl said he stocked the cash box he used as doorman with at least $400 on the night of the raid. He tried to keep track of it when handcuffed and arrested, but officers ignored his pleas. The box, and its contents after an evening of $5 cover charges, has not been recovered since the raid.

imageMy best cop friend is gay. Officers who took part in the raid all denied making the anti-gay slurs that patrons and employees detailed in 14 complaints to the police department’s internal affairs unit and a dozen complaints to the Atlanta Citizen Review Board. Their defense? Officer Stephanie Upton, a lesbian who no longer works for Atlanta police but took part in the raid.

“Officers indicated that they would not use gay slurs or derogatory language in any professional setting, but especially one where Upton was present. Red Dog officers believed that Upton would have alerted supervisors if such language had been used. Similarly, officers believe the use of racial slurs was unlikely because of the large percentage of African American officers on both Red Dog and Vice present at the Eagle,” according to the Greenberg Traurig report.

Book ’em. The Eagle 8 arrested during the raid were held in the city jail for nearly 16 hours. Police issued them tickets for city ordinance violations and did not include a bond amount because the “offenses cited do not commonly result in arrest.”

Lawyer talk. Officers consulted with city attorneys during their undercover operation and ahead of the raid, yet they weren’t warned to obtain a search warrant for the bar and still breached Fourth Amendment prohibitions on search and seizures, search warrants and probable cause.

Drinks for everyone. Media reports have detailed the use of city funds by police investigators to buy drinks in the investigation leading up to the raid and in the hours before officers stormed the bar. Greenberg Traurig says at least $170 was spent on drinks, cover charges and tips – including $110 on the night of the raid – but no shots were consumed. Bridges says he bought drinks for two patrons, along with a cap in Rawhide Leather, the store in the Eagle building. (Bridges was later arrested for DUI in a city-owned car.)

imageWhat about Red Dog? Turner disbanded the Red Dog Unit earlier this year amid criticism over its role in the Eagle raid and accusations that officers in the paramilitary unit fondled drivers during traffic stops. But the unit, which provided support during the Eagle raid, didn’t plan the action. That was done by the Vice Unit, which wasn’t disbanded despite the lack of a search warrant, extensive violations of department policies, and not telling Red Dog officers they were raiding the bar without a warrant.

Hurry up and wait. Officers secured the Eagle in two minutes when they raided it. But patrons were forced to lay face down on the floor for 45 minutes before they were released.

A little God before the gays. The scores of police officers that raided the bar held a pre-raid briefing some three blocks away – in the parking lot of Grace United Methodist Church.

Making a list and checking it twice. Two charts (below) now detail the operating procedures and Fourth Amendment protections that each police supervisor and officer broke during the raid. It’s a quick and handy reference guide and points out that despite the pleas of some officers – including former Red Dog Officer Brian Walters (bottom photo) – that they did nothing wrong during the raid, they really did. So much for Walters and the easy smile and even easier denials he issued during a brief interview during a community meeting with police in April.

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