UPDATED | 6:17 p.m. The Atlanta Police Department on Monday responded to questions and criticism about Thursday’s raid of the Eagle, saying officers witnessed sex taking place inside the bar.
Chief Richard Pennington and other top police commanders held a press conference to shed new light on the incident in which eight employees and dancers were arrested, jailed and charged with violating a city ordinance. The agency also released incident reports about the 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. (View the Project Q Atlanta photo album from the Sunday rally.)
Officers did not witness any sexual activity during their raid on the Eagle Thursday, but during two previous undercover visits, they did witness sexual activity inside the bar, according to the reports released Monday and Officer Dani Lee Harris, the department’s LGBT liaison.
“To conduct the investigation they had to go see the validity of the complaint,” Harris says. “The complaint of sexual misconduct was not seen the third time. The report says it was seen the other two times.”
Undercover officers visited the Eagle three times since complaints were lodged alleging that sex was taking place inside the bar. The third time undercover investigators went into the Eagle, which was Thursday, they followed up with a dozen uniformed officers and made arrests.
None of the 62 patrons inside the bar at the time of the raid were arrested, though they were handcuffed and forced to lay face down on the floor as officers searched them and checked their identities. Patrons allege officers used profanity, told them to “shut the fuck up” and made anti-gay and racial slurs.
Richard Ramey, 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 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.
Complaints filed over police raid
Police officials also announced that 10 complaints were formally lodged against the department on Monday alleging misconduct. 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,” Harris says.
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.
Calls for investigation
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.
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.
Atlanta police did not notify Project Q Atlanta about the press conference, which included Pennington and other police commanders and representatives from Mayor Shirley Franklin’s office.
City Solicitor Raines Carter, whose office will prosecute the charges against the eight men arrested, says that the cases were continued until Sept. 29 during a hearing Monday morning.
Carter says his office had not received any police reports about the arrests by early Monday.