The attorneys who successfully sued to force changes in the Atlanta Police Department in the wake of a botched gay bar raid now charge that the city isn't complying with federal court orders mandating those changes.
The attorneys – Dan Grossman, Lambda Legal attorneys Greg Nevins and Beth Littrell, and attorney Gerald Weber of the Southern Center for Human Rights – filed a scathing 25-page motion on Tuesday alleging that the city and its police department is in violation of court orders and the terms of a lawsuit filed over the raid. The motion alleges that the city hasn't revoked unconstitutional policies, isn't enforcing identification requirements for its officers, failed to document seizers and ID checks, hasn't implemented training and won't resolve citizen complaints in a timely manner.
It is disheartening and depressing that the City of Atlanta does not want toprovide its police officers with adequate training and constitutional SOPsvoluntarily, simply as a matter of good government. But it is shocking that theCity will not do so even when ordered by multiple federal courts. It is in theinterest of both the residents and the police officers of Atlanta for the City toprovide officers with appropriate guidance and training, and Plaintiffs hope thisCourt will ultimately fashion a remedy that is sufficiently persuasive to makethese continuing problems a thing of the past.
On Sept. 10, 2009, Atlanta police officers raided the Atlanta Eagle, arrested patrons and employees and touched off a legal and political storm that lasted years and cost the city nearly $2.7 million in lawsuit settlements and investigations.
The court filing shows that it's the second time since the raid that that city has run afoul of the conditions it agreed to in a settlement of the federal lawsuit in 2010. In June 2011, attorneys for the plaintiffs filed a motion for sanctions, accusing the city of failing to comply with the terms of the settlement. Months later, the city once again agreed to follow the terms of the settlement and paid $25,000 in attorney's fees.
But on Tuesday, attorneys for the plaintiffs once again charge that the city has failed to comply with court orders to revise Standard Operating Procedures for Atlanta police that were deemed unconstitutional and to train its police officers. The court filing also alleges that the city revised its “Stop and Frisk” policy – which was at the center of the legal battle in the wake of the Eagle raid – in 2011 to comply with a court order but sometime later reverted to its old policy that is unconstitutional.
Plaintiffs have just recently learned that, after revising the SOP in 2011 toavoid sanctions, in 2013 the City removed the language it had added. In otherwords, although this Court “ORDERED the City to implement the terms of…”Reforms of the Atlanta Police Department,” which specifically included the“permanent” revision of SOP.3065 on December 15, 2011(ECF No. 280) the Cityun-revised SOP.3065 in 2013 without notice to the Court or Plaintiffs. As a result,the SOP in place today is once again identical to the unconstitutional SOP thatwas in place at the time of the Atlanta Eagle Raid.
Attorneys call the move an “unauthorized change” that provides “blatantly unconstitutional instructions” to Atlanta police officers.
It is hard to imagine a more flagrant example of bad faith, or a moreshocking example of a city’s disrespect for its own agreements and the authorityof a federal court, than a city that waits until the Court and opposing party areno longer paying attention and deliberately undoes something it did to avoidsanctions, in violation of an order of the Court.
Attorneys also argued that Atlanta police officers are failing “to wear a conspicuously visible nametag,” which was also a condition of the legal settlement in 2010.
Plaintiffs do not yet have sufficient information to know how widespreadthis problem may have been or whether or not Atlanta police officers have failedto wear nametags on other occasions, and therefore Plaintiffs do not know if thisproblem merits sanctions or merely remedial measures. Plaintiffs firmly believethe identification requirement of this Order is a crucial element of accountability,since a citizen cannot complain or seek redress against a police officer he cannotidentify, but it is not possible for Plaintiffs to know if this issue is a widespreadproblem or an aberration without conducting additional discovery.
Additionally, the motion argues that Atlanta police aren't documenting certain types of warrantless seizures and ID checks, haven't shown that they investigate citizen complaints within 180 days and have failed to train its officer on the changes mandated in the original lawsuit. All of those conditions are spelled out in the lawsuit settlement.
The motion filed this week gained a surprising ally. Ken Allen, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers – the local chapter of a union for Atlanta police officers, complained in a letter included in the motion of a “disconnect” between training required by the court orders and what's actually taking place.
IBPO Local 623 fundamentally believes that the CITY of ATLANTAshould adhere to and follow any COURT ORDERED training toensure that the Rank-and-File of the Atlanta Police Department meetand/or exceed the courts expected standards. Any shortcoming inthese expectations increases the risk of disciplinary actions towardsthe officers, and further creates the possibility of criminal and/orcivil liabilities.IBPO Local 623 Leadership agrees that these particular topics ofcourt-ordered training are of the utmost importance and ALLstandards must be met and maintained, to prevent conflicts ofinterest and future liabilities.
The motion asks for additional discovery to determine the breadth of the city's apparent non-compliance and for possible sanctions against the city.
The City has an established track record ofcomplying with court orders only when pressed to do so. It took a full year forthe City to comply with the December 8, 2010 Settlement Order in this case, and then only because the City faced the threat of sanctions, and as soon as the City
believed the Court and Plaintiffs were no longer paying attention it reversed a“permanent” SOP change that it had promulgated to avoid sanctions. Anddespite having paid $25,000.00 of taxpayer money in December, 2011, as attorneyfees for its initial non-compliance, the City again did nothing to meet itscontinuing compliance obligations during the following three years.