Box Turtle Bulletin

Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
This article can be found at:
Latest Posts

Posts for July, 2011

Six Atlanta Officers Fired over Eagle Raid

Jim Burroway

July 9th, 2011

Six Atlanta police officers were fired yesterday for lying about what happened during the 2009 raid on the Atlanta Eagle. Nine other officers were also disciplined, with three more hearings scheduled for next week. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The actions come almost 10 days after the release of 343-page report detailing how 16 officers lied or destroyed evidence when asked about the raid at the Atlanta Eagle bar. The report said 10 of them lied, which usually leads to a termination because those officers can not longer testify.

“Honesty goes to the very heart of a police officer’s credibility,” Chief George Turner said. “The public must be able to trust its police officers and expects them to tell the truth at all times. Failure to be truthful has serious consequences at the Atlanta Police Department. I hope my actions today serve as a reminder to those men and women on the force that dishonesty simply will not be tolerated.”

On September 10, 2009, more than a dozen police officers descended en masse on the Atlanta Eagle. Patrons were forced to lie face down on the floor – many handcuffed – and were frisked by officers looking for drugs. According to one patron, police searched everyone the crowd individually while lying face-down without asking permission, and took everyone’s ID. Once a patron’s ID was cleared, he was asked to leave the building.Some officers were heard laughing and commenting that the raid was “more fun than raiding niggers with crack.” Police gave differing reasons for the raid. First, it was a drug search, but no drugs were found. Then the problem cited was sex taking place at the club, but no one was arrested for engaging in any sexual acts. Six were arrested for various charges, but all charges were either dropped or acquitted in court.

These latest disciplinary actions come after an independent review in late June found widespread abuses during the raid:

According to the Greenberg Traurig report, 10 members of the vice unit and the RED DOG team, including three supervisors, violated APD’s policy regarding truthfulness. Most law enforcement agencies consider lying a firing offense, partly because that officer’s credibility can be challenged in court.

The report also found 24 officers illegally searched patrons, illegally detained them and illegally took their belongings, including cellphones and wallets.

…The internal APD investigation sustained complaints violating police policies against 23 officers, including a major. Their offenses ranged from lack of supervision to lying, to showing bias, to using unnecessary force.

The entire report is available here (PDF: 7.8MB/). The report confirmed that patrons, even those not under suspicion for criminal activity, were unnecessarily forced on the ground while background checks were run. One officer, unit supervisor Sgt. John Brock, defended those actions this way (page 142): “There’s a risk factor involved when you’re dealing with people you don’t know anything about. S&M, that has a stigma of some sort of violence.” He added that gays generally “are very violent.” The report quotes Officer Jeremy Edwards as saying, “Seeing another man have sex with another man in the ass, I would classify that as very violent.”  Brock and Edwards were among the six fired Friday for multiple violations of police department policy.

The city of Atlanta has paid $1,025,000 to 28 people to settle a federal lawsuit. During the lawsuit, it was found that police had destroyed evidence, erased cell phone conversations, and recorded over electronic backups of emails. Some of those actions took place after a judge ordered the evidence preserved. Additional terms for settling the lawsuit included the completion and release of last month’s independent review, and several changes to Atlanta Police Department’s policies. The settlement now prohibits Atlanta officers from “interfering in any way with a citizen’s right to make video, audio, or photographic recordings of police activity, as long as such recording does not physically interfere with the performance of an officer’s duty.” They are also required to wear “a conspicuously visible name tag.”

Staff and dancers arrested during police raid on the Atlanta Eagle were found not guilty

Timothy Kincaid

March 15th, 2010

Atlanta EagleOn September 10, 2009, the Atlanta police raided the Atlanta Eagle, a gay bar. They treated the customers like criminals and laughed and made racist and homophobic remarks as patrons lay handcuffed and face down on the floor.

The police were certain that illegal public sex and drugs would be discovered by their raid, thus justifying their heavy-handed approach. But no sex was going on. And although the police searched all of the patrons, they did not find any drugs at all.

So they had to do something. They couldn’t simply acknowledge that their raid was pointless, purposeless, and anti-gay in appearance. Somehow they had to explain why nine undercover officers, a dozen uniformed police, ten squad cars, and three jail vans descended on the 62 patrons enjoying their beer.

A crime, they needed a crime. So they arrested four employee and four dancers for “providing adult entertainment without a permit”. They were dancing in their underwear, you see.

Last Thursday a judge threw that bogus excuse out on its ear. (Journal-Constitution)

An Atlanta judge found three defendants in the Atlanta Eagle gay bar case not guilty Thursday, and the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the charges against the other five defendants.
Related

Municipal Judge Crystal Gaines said city police failed to produce evidence proving that men danced naked without permits or that the bar operators were running an unlicensed adult establishment.

That isn’t to say that they didn’t try. Det. Bennie E. Bridges testified of the evil deeds done that night.

Bridges said that he heard no slurs and that he saw one of the defendants dancing atop the bar “in bikini underwear.”

“He was pulling down the front of his underwear and exposing himself,” Bridges said. “Men would reach up and put money into the waistband.”

But Bridges couldn’t even identify five of the eight arrested, so their charges were dismissed. And after the judge heard testimony from patrons, dancers, and employees that no one was exposed, the judge decided Mr. Bridges’ statements were not enough.

Judge Gaines said the city had to overcome “all these witnesses” and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that nude dancing happened.

“I don’t believe that the city has met that burden,” she said.

This is a blow to the police force. There is a civil suit brought by the patrons of the Eagle against the police, and a conviction of the employees or dancers would have helped with the defense. And no doubt the officers thought at the time that arresting someone – anyone – would be a good idea. “Criminals” have less credibility when it comes to addressing police excesses.

But in this instance they may have done themselves more harm than good. False arrests only serve to turn public opinion against a police force that can then be seen as abusive. And this decision suggests that the word of the officers in this case, or at least that of Bridges, is not completely credible.

But this is not the only way in which the officers are hurting their own public image.

The Atlanta City Council, meanwhile, has agreed to subpoena 18 officers to answer questions about the raid from the Citizen Review Board. So far, only one officer has complied.

That refusal may be due to the lawsuit, but it certainly doesn’t make them look good.

And in the meanwhile, the suit goes forward (pbaonline)

Attorneys say starting Monday, patrons of the Atlanta Eagle present that September night begin giving depositions to the city attorney’s office. Also this week, the legal team plans to request documents, radio transmissions and other records as part of its discovery process.

While last week’s acquittal of the Eagle employees will not have a direct effect on the civil case, Attorney Dan Grossman says it shows the raid was malicious and illegal.

“It was not about sex,” said Grossman. “It was not about underwear dancing. It was cops who simply wanted to search 70 people for drugs, didn’t have a warrant, didn’t have the right to do it, and did it anyway.”

Oh, yeah. I think it’s time to start thinking about a settlement.

The Atlanta election results

Timothy Kincaid

December 2nd, 2009

Yesterday I posted a commentary in which I speculated that if the mayoral election came down to the gay vote (as some news sources were suggesting) that this would favor Mary Norwood.

Well, the results are in (kinda) and either the gay community was not the determining factor or my speculations were off base. The vote was much larger than expected and while the gay community turned out in large percentages to support gay candidates, overall increased turnout diluted the gay vote. As it stands, Sen. Kasim Reed is ahead by 758 votes, though provisional ballots are still untallied and a recount is expected.

The good news is that whoever is finally determined to be the victor, both candidates courted the gay vote and seem to recognize the importance of rights and recognition for gay couples and individuals. As the city and the police department are facing a lawsuit from the patrons at the Atlanta Eagle, it is hoped that a closer relationship between the community and the city can help heal rifts and facilitate a smoother resolution to the situation.

Additional good news is that Atlanta voters elected two gay representatives, Alex Wan to the Atlanta City Council and Simone Bell to the Georgia House of Representatives.

With their wins, Simone Bell becomes first black lesbian elected to a state Legislature in the United States. Alex Wan becomes first gay man and Asian American man elected to Atlanta City Council.

Atlanta sued for Eagle raid

Timothy Kincaid

November 24th, 2009

On September 10, Atlanta police stormed the Eagle, a gay bar, treating all patrons like criminals, disregarding their civil rights, and subjecting them to homophobic language. They seemed to presume that illegal sex and drugs would be found which would justify this extreme action on their part.

There was no sex. Although patrons were individually searched (without cause or warrant) not a single illegal substance was found. And though police ran a check on each person, not even a warrant for an outstanding jaywalking ticket was identified.

So since this was just begging for a lawsuit, Lambda Legal has obliged. (Windy City Times)

In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia today, Lambda Legal and co-counsel filed a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta, the Chief of Police and forty-eight individual officers of the Atlanta Police Department on behalf of nineteen individuals who, on September 10 at the Atlanta Eagle gay bar, were forcibly searched and detained.

“The illegal activity going on in the Atlanta Eagle that night was committed by the APD,” said Greg Nevins, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta. “If it is APD procedure for elderly men and wounded veterans to be thrown to the floor and harassed simply for being in a bar having a drink after work, then the APD should change its procedures.”

No doubt the police will issue a report in which they find themselves faultless, within procedure, and without blame.

Atlanta Eagle Raid Cops: “More Fun Than Raiding N***ers With Crack”

Jim Burroway

September 16th, 2009

Many police departments have someone designated as a liaison to the LGBT community. For many departments, these liasons are respected and valued officers who serve an important role in the department’s dealings with the LGBT community. For other departments, the position is nothing but window-dressing. In Atlanta, where the LGBT liaison was kept out of the loop during the raid — and didn’t even have basic information about what happened late the following afternoon, it’s increasingly clear that the Atlanta Police Department views its liaison as nothing but a prop.

More evidence has piled up now that the Atlanta Police have released nine complaints against police officers who raided the Atlanta Eagle last week. None of the bars patrons were arrested or charged with anything, but all of them were subjected to some pretty vile treatment. Here are some exerpts from those complaints obtained by Southern Voice:

One man said officers grabbed patrons who didn’t immediately lie down by the neck and forced them to the ground. The man said he was kicked in the ribs while lying down. “Then I heard laughing and giggling and saying this is more fun than raiding niggers with crack. … He also reported that one officer “said to everyone in general that all you all do is flash your asses and show your cocks.”

The raid extended beyond the club itself and into a private apartment above the Eagle:

An employee who lives in an apartment over the Eagle, who said he was not working that night, said someone started pounding on his door. He opened the door to two cops who asked if anyone was having sex there. They asked why there was a bed and he said it was because he lives there. He was made to come downstairs and was arrested with the other employees. He recalled hearing comments like “You people are despicable.”

The Southern Voice has more. That’s one classy department the Atlanta police chief is running — and a racist one too.

The Anonymous Tips

Timothy Kincaid

September 15th, 2009

The Southern Voice is now hosting copies of the complaints that generated the commitment of over 20 officers to raid the Atlanta Eagle.

One appears to be a speculation about an event scheduled for July 5th (“They have hired nude dancers to dance on the bars; sex will be permitted as at most circuit parties, drugs will be sold freely.”)

The other anonymous tip (“for fear of retaliation”) seems to be a more generalized complaint about “ongoing sex parties on Thursday nights” and purports to be from a neighbor. It seems that it is this tip that motivated the massive response.

Witnesses (including myself) in the neighborhood have seen men in various states of undress performing sexual acts on each other including oral and anal sex. Mayor Franklin, your assistance in this matter is desperately needed as people in this neighborhood are concerned about the neighborhood being turned into a brothel. Bags of what appears to be drug residue are found strewn around a one block radius of the bar and drunk bar patrons scream and create disturbances. The neighbors that I have spoken to are scared to report anything as the bar owner has been known to retaliate against neighbors by pointing a speakers with sounds of men having sex and blasting it to the residential building next to the bar.

It would appear that the police did not make much effort to confirm this anonymous accusation before choosing to believe it. Had they checked with the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance, they may have saved themselves the effort and the embarrassment.

I have a bird’s eye view of what the community is telling us. I know every square inch of the MPSA service area, in which the Eagle is prominently located. I have never once received any reports or made any observations even remotely suggesting that crime and disorder in the neighborhood would be attributed to the Eagle.

The Eagle has always been totally unlike [other bars the MPSA worked to get closed]. From what we can tell, the staff and patrons of that establishment have enjoyed their evenings quite peacefully. We have never observed otherwise, and nobody has ever reported to us otherwise. We feel reassured that of the 62 (?) people that were found to be in that bar during the raid, not a single one had any drugs in their possession – truly amazing!

…The Eagle was that bar of choice – right there where everything possible could go wrong given the long-standing undesirable remnants of Ponce past, where a bar would be most at risk of becoming a community nightmare, and yet not a peep for years on end.

One thing that stands out to me is the assumption on the part of those who seek to oppose gay people and their lives that they can and should do so without any accountability. They hide behind anonymity claiming fear of reprisal from the evil awful gays, when it is they who are causing harm and disruption.

We see this in the raids on bars in Georgia and Texas, where “anonymous tips” are justification for police hostility. And we see it in Washington in petitioners who want to deny rights under the cloak of secrecy.

But what is disheartening and disturbing is that persons of authority, be they police or judges, are quick to shield the identity of accusers – who are often making false claims – and to view gay people as the danger by default. Our lives are disrupted, our freedoms are threatened, our rights are in jeopardy, but it is the anonymous identity of liars that must be protected.

UPDATE: As best I can tell from Google maps, there isn’t a residential building next to the bar. There may be one behind the establishment across a parking lot, but that appears to be the closest.

Yet Another “Reason” for the Atlanta Bar Raid

Timothy Kincaid

September 14th, 2009

Not having found any drugs (the previous “reason”) during their raid on the Atlanta Eagle, the police now have a new “reason” why nine undercover officers, a dozen uniformed police, ten squad cars, and three jail vans were required to descend on this bar, force its 62 patrons to lie on the floor, subject them to insults and slurs, conduct warrantless searches on each of them, do background checks without any cause for suspicion, and jail the employees for bogus “crimes”, all while keeping their plan secret from the gay liaison. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

According to police records, undercover vice officers had been to the club and witnessed men having sex while other patrons watched. The department received its first complaints in May and sent officers there undercover before the Sept. 10 raid, Pennington said.

Police records show that initial complaints alleged there were drugs being sold on Atlanta Eagle premises and that patrons engaged in open sex acts.

Yep. It was sex, I tell ya, sex. None of which was occurring on the night of September 10th. I wonder if Danni Lynn Harris, the department’s liaison with the gay and lesbian community, was aware of the existence of these “police records” or whether they were being saved for the purpose of this raid.

And my question is about the motivation of this raid. If their intent was to eliminate offensive sexual behavior within the club, wouldn’t the first step be to discuss the behavior with the club’s management?

The failure of this police department to take any preventive steps but rather to take drastic and disproportionate actions designed to humiliate and harass the patrons of this establishment suggests to me that their motives had little at all to do with any real crimes.

But there is one point of real encouragement in this story. Npt only did politicians step in to help our community, but we stood up for ourselves.

On Monday, at least 10 of the bar’s patrons and employees went to APD’s Office of Professional Standards to lodge complaints about the way they were treated by the officers conducting the raid.

We aren’t going to sit back and act like we deserve police brutality or lack of civil treatment. Not anymore. Not even in the South.

Suspicious Elements of Atlanta Eagle Raid

Jim Burroway

September 12th, 2009

Atlanta EagleHere’s the thing I find very suspicious about Thursday’s raid on the Atlanta Eagle, which involved ten police cars and fifteen officers.  After having the patrons lie on the floor during the raid and endure insults from the Police Department, the police arrested eight employees for providing adult entertainment. Apparently, they had patrons dancing in their underwear — it was underwear night — and that constitutes “adult entertainment.” Never mind that this apparel is generally not dissimilar to that found at Atlanta public swimming pools. But that was such a horrific crime for Atlanta that eight employees were detained in Atlanta’s city jails overnight. Six of the eight remained detained until well into the following afternoon when two Atlanta City Council candidates intervened and contacted a judge who finally set bail.

And there’s this description of the raid itself:

“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 office 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.

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.

The source said he was face down on the ground through the process, which for him was about half an hour. Others, he said, waited longer.

“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 around joking and taking their job lightly.

“We were treated as criminals from the get-go,” he said. “I definitely felt harassed.”

All because, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, of this:

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.

This contradicts an earlier claim of “several complaints,” which itself seems suspicious given that no one was arrested for “illicit sex” or selling drugs, which were two of the reasons offered for the raid. No drugs were found in the entire search (which I think is rather remarkable for any large well-attended bar, gay or straight.)

Does the Mayor’s office and Atlanta Police Department pursue anonymous tips against straight bars? That’s what Dan Savage wants to know:

I think we should find out if the mayor of Atlanta will order a police raid on any bar—gay or straight—based on a single (and apparently phony) tip about drug use. So, hey, here’s a list of bars in Atlanta and here’s the mayor’s contact info

Mayor Shirley Franklin
Tel: 404.330.6100
Fax: 404.658.6893
mayorfranklin@atlantaga.gov

If you know or even just suspect that drugs are being used or sold—or adult entertainment provided without a city permit—on the premises of any bar or club in Atlanta, send a tip off the mayor’s office now. If every bar in Atlanta winds up gets raided—if 10 police cars, 15 officers, and 10 undercover officers get sent to every bar in town—then we’ll know that the raid on the Atlanta Eagle wasn’t motivated by anti-gay bias. Mayor Franklin is standing by waiting for your tips!

Meanwhile, the police’s LGBT Liaison Officer Dani Lynn Harris has been kept completely out of the loop. She didn’t know about the raid until she was contacted by the media, and as of Friday afternoon she still didn’t have an incident number on the case, so she couldn’t access basic information like how many officers were on the scene or who was arrested on what charges.

A protest is planned for Sunday at 5 p.m at the Eagle parking lot. A Facebook page has been created for the rally.

Raid on Gay Bar in Atlanta

Timothy Kincaid

September 11th, 2009

The facts are tentative, but appear to be as follows (as provided by a first hand account from a reporter for the Atlanta Progressive News and by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution):

Last night, about 15 police officers raided the Atlanta Eagle, purportedly looking for drugs. It was the Eagle’s “underwear night”, and the bar staff, along with some patrons, were in their underwear.

Patrons were forced to lie face down on the floor – many handcuffed – and were frisked by officers looking for drugs. No drugs were found. It appears that several persons in the club prior to the arrest were undercover police.

The bar tenders and bar dancers were arrested and jailed for “providing adult entertainment without a city permit”. They remained in jail until this afternoon when two city councilpersons interceded.

Police appeared to be callous to the humiliation of the gay patrons and made pejorative comments. While the purpose was supposedly for drug enforcement, it appeared to all that this would be more accurately described as police harassment of the gay community. And there were statements made that suggest that the police involved felt no hesitation about a fraudulent raid.

One police officer stated, as he and others left the parking lot, “This is gonna keep happening if we keep getting complaints from the community.” The officer did not specify what complaints he was referring to.

Fortunately, the police liaison to the gay community is not taking the situation lightly.

Atlanta Police’s liaison to the gay community said the volume of complaints she’s received from patrons at a Midtown leather bar that was raided Thursday night suggests an investigation is warranted.

“There’s too many people saying the same thing for there not to be some validity to it,” said Danni Lynn Harris, Atlanta Police’s LGBT liaison.

It is difficult to view this situation in terms other than abuse of power. Let’s hope that a expeditious investigation is initiated and that steps are taken to avoid future targeting of gay businesses for police harassment in Atlanta.