Friday, September 11, 2009
WHO SENDS A SQUAD OF UNDERCOVER OFFICERS, TEN POLICE CARS AND TWO PADDY WAGONS TO INVESTIGATE A "NOISE COMPLAINT?" Apparently the Atlanta Police Department.
In a move strangely reminiscent of the recent Fort Worth raid on the Rainbow Lounge, Atlanta police turned out in force to raid the popular Atlanta Eagle leather bar late on Thursday night, September 10. Officers arrested eight members of the Eagle staff, plus several dancers. They also manhandled and harrassed customers while shouting slurs and derogatory comments.
Originally, officers claimed they were investigating an anonymous noise complaint. Then they claimed they were investigating the Eagle because of reports of drug use. Later yet, they claimed reports of sex acts inside and outside of the club led to tghe raid. Yet, at the end of the evening, after shutting down the bar, ordering all the customers face down on the floor, handcuffing many of them, searching everyone and running identity checks -- after all that -- the best that Atlanta's Finest could manage was to arrest a few people because a couple of guys dancing in their underwear did not have "strippers' licenses." The eight staff and dancers were held overnight.
In Atlanta, a city with one of the highest crime rates in the country, THIS IS HOW THE ATLANTA POLICE SPEND THEIR TIME AND TAX-DOLLARS? By harrassing gay citizens for trumped up reasons that they make up on the spot? First, noise. Then, drugs. Then, heaven help us, underwear-dancing?
These cops -- I won't dignify them with the word 'officers' -- shame their badges and their uniforms.
Three hours ago, after numerous requests for information throughout the day from many media sources, the Atlanta Police Department released a terse statement. It is brief and totally non-informative. It says:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 11, 2009
The Atlanta Eagle Club Arrests
“The Atlanta Police Department conducts routine inspections of city businesses with valid alcohol permits. The City received several complaints with descriptive information about alleged criminal conduct at the Atlanta Eagle Club located at 306 Ponce De Leon.
In an effort to ensure compliance with the law, the Police Department investigated the complaints and during the investigation police observed criminal behavior taking place at the Club on September 10, 2009. While the Police were conducting a compliance check it lead to the arrests of eight employees. The Department views all complaints of criminal conduct as serious and will utilize resources to investigate and deter criminal activity in order to create a safe environment.
While there have been allegations of improper behavior by police officers conducting the investigation, there have not been any official complaints filed with the Atlanta Police Department. ”
Sgt. Lisa Keyes, Atlanta Police Department, Public Affairs Unit
Now, note that the statement does not specify the charges or specific nature of the complaint that led to this MASSIVE SHOW OF FORCE, nor does it acknowledge that the worst crime they found was a couple of guys dancing in their Calvin Kleins.
Note also that, although every single customer and staff member in the bar was searched, and virtually every piece of equipment, including cash registers and ice machines, were searched, the Atlanta Gestapo found ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE OF DRUGS. Zip, zilch, nada, no drugs. Not on the customers, not on the staff, not on the premises.
Note also those totally unfounded allegations of sex acts inside the club and out. Ablsolutely nobody was charged with a lewd act.
Indeed, the only noise was the noise made by squad cars, swat teams and mouthy laughing cops. The only lewd acts were the pathetic efforts to come up with a justification after the fact for this attack on the gay community. And the only drugs involved in this sorry matter were the ones these asshat cops must have been smoking beforehand.
"Our problem is with the way our customers were treated," said one of the Eagle's owners, Richard Ramey.
“I’m thinking, this is Stonewall. It’s like I stepped into the wrong decade,” said Nick Koperski, 31, who had just gotten to the bar when the raid, involving more than a dozen police officers, some in plain clothes, commenced.
Eagle bartender Chris Lopez said, “Before I knew it I was being handcuffed to [Robert Kelley]. They were going from patron to patron, having everyone turn out their pockets.”
Danni Lynn Harris, Atlanta Police's liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, said the volume of complaints she's received from Eagle customers suggest an investigation is warranted. Harris acknowledged that she knew nothing about the raid until she heard about it through the media.
Later, after fumbling through a series of excuses and justifications, Harris said the raid, conducted by the vice squad, was a result of a tip sent to Mayor Shirley Franklin's office alleging “illicit sex” at The Eagle, Harris said. Ironically, Franklin's election and re-election campaigns were headquartered in space adjoining the leather bar.
Harris admitted that no drugs were found, and none of those arrested face narcotics charges.
“It just doesn’t make any sense, with all the bad stuff that’s going on in the city,” Lopez said. “It felt like they had to justify [the raid].”
“What I’ve been hearing is a lot of people saying they were verbally abused, with anti-gay overtones,” the LGBT liaison said.
“I’ve never heard about something like this at a straight establishment,” Koperski said. “I do believe it was prejudicial.”
A rally opposing the raid has been organized for 5 p.m. Sunday at the bar.
“I’m concerned it’s going to be one of those things that blow up before all the facts are known,” Harris said.
Ramey, who said The Eagle has never had trouble with police before, said he may pursue legal action following the raid.
“How can I just sit here and let them get away with doing this to my customers?” he said.
The APD statement acknowledged "allegations of improper behavior by police officers conducting the investigation" but added no official complaints have been filed with the department.
As for that anonymous "noise complaint?" Steve Gower, a community volunteer with the watchdog group, Midtown Ponce Security Alliance, said the neighborhood group does not have a problem with the Eagle.
"I can assure you that the raid was not initiated by MPSA or its patrol, and we have never received any complaints, reports, or observations about criminal activity in any way associated with the Eagle," Gower said. "Further, I have spent much time on the streets of Midtown, and look under every rock to identify problem spots. Eagle is not one of those problem spots, and we have always considered the Eagle to be a good neighbor."
One patron who asked that his name be withheld said the crowd at the bar was “definitely shocked" by the raid. “I had been there less that five minutes, around 11 p.m.,” the patron told Southern Voice. “It was a pretty slow night, and I was just talking with someone by the dance floor when all of a sudden, a police officer, I’m not sure if he was in plain clothes or not, came through, knocked something over and said, ‘everyone get down.’"
The man initially thought it might have been a fight between patrons, but after seeing several officers enter the dance floor area, he knew it was serious.
“I was on my knees after they told us to get down, but then an officer grabbed me by the back of the neck and pushed me down,” said the patron. “It wasn’t necessarily abuse, but I definitely think they used a heavy hand."
Anyone who tried arguing with authorities was told to “Shut up,” and “don’t speak until spoken to," the man said.
“It was a full on police raid. For customers who were just having a drink, hanging out, it was definitely shocking,” he said. He added that he was face down on the ground through the process, hich for him was about half an hour. Others, he said, waited even longer.
According to the patron, while everyone was still face down, police searched the crowd individually without asking permission, and later took everyone’s ID. Once a patron’s ID was cleared, he was asked to leave the building.
“I heard some laughter and casual conversation during the event,” he continued. “It made me mad because I was forced on the floor, searched and held down, not able to talk while they were walking around joking and taking their job lightly.
“We were treated as criminals from the get-go,” he said. “I definitely felt harassed. It seems like the club was targeted unfairly,” he said. “And it was a raid for anything and everything they could find."
Du-Wayne Ray, store manager of Rawhide Leather, which operates below the Eagle, said that he and one of his employees heard one white uniformed officer say to another, “This is a lot more fun than raiding niggers with crack.”
Ray said he was handcuffed for an hour-and-a-half to two hours on the back deck of The Eagle, and said, “A lot of anti-gay comments were made.”
A reporter for Atlanta Progessive News was actually on the site at the time of the raid and broke the story in the early hours of Friday morning.
Another patron, Allan Vives, who was at the bar during the raid, also offered an account of events to Atlanta Progressive News on Friday.
"Everyone was ordered to get on their stomachs and face down during this ordeal. As far as I could tell everyone was searched at least once, most of us twice. Most, but not all, of the officers were incredibly derogatory and insulting whether they found evidence of drugs or not," Vives said in an email.
"When asking why, we were met with derisive remarks and no explanation. I am furious at how we were treated and can't believe that this has happened in this day and age. The officers present were incredibly rude to anyone who dared to ask what was happening and several were openly hostile towards the gay patrons," he continued.
A protest and demonstration in support for the Atlanta Eagle is scheduled for Sunday afternoon. The Atlanta Police Department owes the Eagle and the Atlanta gay community an apology for this ridiculous attack. The statement it issued Friday afternoon is completely inadequate.
When police TABC agents attacked the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth, Texas on the 40th anniverary of the Stonewall rebellion, gay Texans turned out in force to voice their outrage. They demanded answers and apologies and got them. Several agents were fired or reprimanded, and new policies were put in place.
Gay Atlantans should demand no less.