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|Atlanta ‘scrambles’ to finish investigation of Eagle raid|
|Written by Dyana Bagby|
|Thursday, 26 May 2011 16:02|
The City of Atlanta is apparently rushing to finish an investigation that’s been open for two years into the police raid of the Atlanta Eagle that happened in September 2009.
Patrons and employees who were in the gay bar the night it was raided on Sept. 10, 2009, filed complaints in the days following the raid with the Atlanta Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards. That OPS investigation remains open.
When the city settled for more than $1 million in December with plaintiffs who sued because they said their constitutional rights were violated, part of the settlement agreement included a specific clause that the city had 180 days to complete an investigation into the raid.
WSB-TV reported Wednesday that the investigation has been “reopened.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is a media partner with WSB, reported last night that the city hired high-profile attorney Joe Whitley of the law firm Greenberg Taurig to conduct the investigation. Whitely was Acting Associate Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice under George W.H. Bush.
The investigation has not been reopened, explained Dan Grossman, the lead attorney who represented the Eagle plaintiffs. The investigation has been open since the week of the raid in 2009.
"They still have not officially closed the investigation [that began in September 2009] or taken any disciplinary action against any officer," Grossman said.
“They [city officials] are scrambling to finish an investigation that has been open two years,” added Grossman.
The investigation and a report of what was discovered by the city is to be completed by June 8, Grossman said.
Grossman said the city hired Whitley March 7 and that he has been working with him for several weeks.
“But they waited for two weeks before the investigation is to be completed before they started interviewing anyone,” Grossman said.
Thomas Hayes, one of the plaintiffs, was interviewed yesterday by Whitley, another attorney from Greenberg Taurig, as well as an officer from the Atlanta Police OPS unit, Grossman said.
“A couple of months ago the city scheduled one interview with an Eagle plaintiff. The city had set a schedule to interview all the plaintiffs. But during the first interview it was obvious they were not anywhere near in compliance with how the interview was to take place,” Grossman said. Another attempt was made to schedule Eagle plaintiffs, but they were canceled, too.
According to the settlement, interviews are to be conducted with all people who in the bar the night of the raid — more than 60. The city’s attorneys were to also make photos of officers available as part of the questioning process of Eagle plaintiffs and patrons.
“In conducting this investigation the Atlanta Police Department will interview all witnesses who were present during the raid and who agree to cooperate with the investigation, and will provide these witnesses a meaningful opportunity to identify individual officers by various means, including at a minimum a meaningful selection of photographs showing each officer's face, physical stature, and other physical characteristics,” the settlement states.
“When the first interview was attempted a couple months ago, it was clear the city was not anywhere near in compliance [with the court order]. They were supposed to show all witnesses photographs of officers and none of those were made available,” Grossman added.
Chris Lopez, who was a bartender at the Eagle the night it was raided and also arrested by police and put on trial for with seven other Eagle employees, has not been contacted by APD officials since he filed his OPS complaint the day after the raid two years ago, he said.
“I’ve never been contacted by the APD,” he said. “I am willing to be interviewed.”
Grossman added that because of the "false starts" by the city into questioning Eagle plaintiffs as part of the investigation, many have now said they do not want to be part of the process anymore.
"As a result of the city scheduling and canceling interviews with the plaintiffs, who took time off work only to have their interview canceled — because of these two false starts, several plaintiffs are no longer willing to be interviewed, which I think is a shame," Grossman said. "It's been disappointing."
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed's office did not immediately return a call seeking comment. In trying to build bridges with the LGBT community from the fallout of the Eagle raid, Reed appointed two APD gay liaisons and the formation of an LGBT police advisory group.
Reed told the AJC, "When the investigation is concluded, I want to read the report and I want to implement whatever reforms are needed to make sure that what happened at the Eagle never happens in the city of Atlanta again."
Top photo: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed at a press conference in December announcing the city's settlement with the plaintiffs in the Eagle lawsuit. He's flanked to the right by APD Chief George Turner and APD LGBT liaisons Brian Sharp and Patricia Powell (file photo)
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