UPDATED | 1:37 p.m. | Protest set for Saturday
A patron of the Atlanta Eagle says officers with the Atlanta Police Department acted inappropriately during a raid late Thursday, yelling profanity at people inside the bar, forcing them to lay face down on the floor while handcuffed for more than an hour, joking during arrests and repeatedly asking patrons if they were married or in the military.
The allegations come in the wake of a raid Thursday at the popular gay bar on Ponce de Leon Avenue. The action by Atlanta police included eight arrests and was first reported Friday by Atlanta Progressive News.
Gay and lesbian activists, concerned about the raid, are planning a protest Sunday at 5 p.m., a change from the original plan to hold the rally on Saturday. The event was announced through a Facebook invitation from Jeff Schade, who has organized other grassroots actions in Atlanta through social media outlets. A location for the protest has not yet been selected.
A patron at the bar, who asked that he not be named, says police stormed the Eagle about 11:30 p.m. last night while he was sitting with an acquaintance in one of two bars in the rear of the facility.
“I was in the other room making out with this other guy,” the man says. “We are sitting there and then I hear, ‘Get down now, Atlanta Police Department.’ Everybody lays down on the floor, the lights come on. People were asking what was going on and the police kept yelling, ‘Shut the fuck up.'”
People inside the bar were ordered to lay face down on the floor, were searched and handcuffed, the patron says. An elderly man at one of the bars was grabbed by an officer and pushed to the ground, he says.
“They were asking people if they are married, if they were in the military. They were saying things like I bet there are a lot of Marines, a lot of military in here. They were cracking jokes,” the patron says.
“At one point, they start writing peoples names down and at one point I was singled out for doing illegal activity,” he says. “They accused me of having someone bent over having sex in the back bar, which I wasn’t. When I tried to tell the officer that, he accused me of lying to him. They kept telling me, ‘Shut the fuck up, you are lying.'”
While he was detained in handcuffs for more than an hour, he also heard one officer tell another that “I hate gay people.”
“I was held in the bar for over an hour; they were going through and searching people’s pockets. They tore the bar apart. They searched the cash register, they searched the ice machine, they were ripping things off the walls. It was ridiculous. They were in full SWAT gear,” the patron says.
On Thursday, the bar featured dancers in underwear. Atlanta Progressive News reports that about 15 officers were involved in the bar raid, including undercover officers.
According to numerous patrons, many patrons were handcuffed and many, if not all, were searched for drugs and were asked to show identification.
According to one patron, APD handcuffed all Eagle staff members and dancers, patrons in a leather shop, and anyone who was wearing only underwear; Thursday is advertised as underwear night.
From about 11:30pm to 12am, patrons came out of the bar one at a time, apparently, after they had shown ID and gotten searched.
At about 11:50pm, police asked all people standing in the parking lot to leave the property and un-blocked their cars.
An Atlanta police spokesperson says eight people were arrested at the bar Thursday, including dancers, club management and staff. Patrons of the bar were not arrested, according to Officer Dani Lee Harris, the department’s GLBT liaison.
Undercover officers entered the Eagle prior to the raid, which took place about 11:40 p.m. on Thursday, to investigate a single complaint lodged several weeks ago against the bar, Harris says. Harris did not know the specifics of the complaint.
“They went in, had undercover officers go in to investigate the complaint. It was an ongoing investigation from a complaint that happened several weeks ago,” Harris says.
Members of the police department’s vice squad and narcotics units were involved in the incident, Harris says.
Richard Ramey, the Eagle’s owner, told Atlanta Progressive News on Friday that the only charge faced by those arrested was dancing without a permit.
“No patron was arrested. I was under the impression the only time you needed a license… is if they’re strippers. These dancers were in their underwear,” Ramey said.
Ramey said he is upset and concerned about the civil rights of his customers. He wants bar patrons who feel they were mistreated to contact him. “After everything they did to our customers and our staff… they did this like they did in the Stonewall days,” Ramey said.
Ramey said the so-called complaint from the community consisted of “a noise complaint… How can they made everybody lie on that nasty floor without probable cause?”
Harris could not confirm the charges to those arrested.
Calls to other spokespeople for the Atlanta Police Department were not immediately returned Friday morning. Major Khirus Williams, the commander of Zone 5 where the Eagle is located, was not available for comment Friday morning. A call from a reporter was referred to the department’s public affairs unit.