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|Atlanta Eagle co-owner says bar is not $1 million richer after federal lawsuit settlement|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|December 14, 2010 14:49|
A family came to the Atlanta Eagle gay bar on Ponce de Leon last night after apparently being sent there by a church seeking help to buy a car. A car would help the parents find a job in these tough economic times.
This incident has Richard Ramey and Robby Kelley, co-owners of the bar, distressed and they want people to know that while $1.025 million awarded in a lawsuit filed by patrons of the Atlanta Eagle the night it was illegally raided last September is a lot of money, the bar itself is only receiving $80,000 — enough to cover the losses the bar suffered in the past year. The federal judge in the case ordered the money be put into an escrow account of Lambda Legal.
"We took this family very seriously and it was very upsetting. We don't want people to think we have all this money and we're partying on the beach or something," Ramey said. "I don't want people to think the Eagle has a million dollars. We don't."
There were 26 individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit, all patrons the night the bar was raided on Sept. 10, 2009. Two corporations — Ramey & Kelley (doing business as the Atlanta Eagle) and Rawhide Leather Inc., a business located in the same building as the bar — were also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
"The $1,025,000 is going to be distributed between all [plaintiffs], two corporations and legal representation," Ramey said. "I do not have the information on who [else] is getting what."
Representing the plaintiffs were lead attorney Dan Grossman as well as attorneys with Lambda Legal, and LGBT nonprofit legal organization; and the Southern Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit legal organization whose mission includes advocating for criminal justice reform.
Ramey and Kelley [the corporation that sued as one of the plaintiffs] is getting $80,000 of the overall settlement, Ramey said, "an amount we agreed upon, which is less than what we asked for. We received enough to pay our bills."
Ramey said the money Ramey & Kelley received is almost "to the penny" they lost in the past year.
"I know we all settled for less than we asked because we got the [Atlanta Police Department] policy changes we asked for that will protect all the citizens in Atlanta and the apology we wanted from the beginning," Ramey said. "It's important to us for our community to know why and how we got what we got."
And while the legal teams took on the case pro bono, they were awarded settlement money as well, Ramey said.
"Lambda Legal and Southern Center for Human Rights profited from the work. And they should have. They and Dan Grossman worked very, very hard on this case. Everyone deserves every penny they got," he said. But, he added, the legal representatives also took cuts to what they originally asked for.
Ramey said the reason his company sued the city of Atlanta was because the "violent raid" on the gay bar included illegal searches of his establishment, including going through the bar's cash register, kicking in a door to an office and also illegally searching the patrons.
"My civil rights were violated when they invaded the bar with no search warrants," he said.
Ramey and Kelley also sued to back up the patrons in the bar who were willing to stand up to the city, he said.
"Every person who had the courage to stand up deserve what they got — without those guys these changes would not have happened," he said.
Ramey acknowledged these are tough economic times for all bars in the city, which likely also played a role in the Atlanta Eagle having a poor year financially. He also acknowledged the city is facing a tough budget crunch. But, he added, he has no doubts the raid on the Atlanta Eagle last year hurt business significantly.
Ramey also said that during the negotiation process, the individual plaintiffs were asked if they were willing to take less money than Ramey & Kelley would receive. All said yes, Ramey said.
"Every customer said they would take less because they believed the Atlanta Eagle suffered the worst. I'm grateful for all they did," he said.
The money Ramey and Kelley did receive, as owners of the Atlanta Eagle, has allowed them to apply to renew their liquor licenses and to remain open next year as well, Ramey said.
It's important for the bar to stay open, he said, because it supports such organizations as the Southern Bears as well as the Hotlanta Rubber Group, Panther L/L and Atlanta S/M Solidarity — groups that otherwise may not have a home for socializing as well as fundraising for local charity organizations, especially those that help people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.
But the most important part of the lawsuit, Ramey said, was the policy changes in the APD that were made. He also said now that the lawsuit is over, he hopes the entire community can heal.
"I really feel the new mayor and the new chief will ensure these policies are put in place, as they should've been from the beginning," he said. "This is something we never should have gone to court for. The reason I stood up was because I needed to do so for my customers."
The city has a timeline to pay the money owed to the plaintiffs, Ramey said, but he said he did not know the dates the money needed to be paid by.
Town hall forum to discuss Atlanta Eagle settlement, police policy changes
Dan Grossman will speak at a town hall forum on Monday, Dec. 20, at 7 p.m. to discuss the Atlanta Eagle lawsuit and the resulting changes to the Atlanta Police Department's policies. The forum will be held at the Phillip Rush Center, 1530 DeKalb Ave., Atlanta, GA 30307. To find out more, visit the Facebook page for the event here.
Top photo: Richard Ramey and Robby Kelley speak to reporters last week after the federal lawsuit settlement over a raid on their bar was finalized. (by Bo Shell)
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