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|Atlanta police misconduct could cost taxpayers another $200,000|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|July 27, 2011 16:26|
Although the Atlanta Police Department's Red Dog Unit has been disbanded for several months now, the illegal actions of the unit involved in the controversial Atlanta Eagle raid and some of its officers are continuing — possibly — to cost taxpayers money.
On Tuesday, the Atlanta City Council's Public Safety Committee voted to pay $200,000 to two men who alleged they were strip searched on the side of the road in broad daylight by three former Red Dog officers. The full council will vote on the settlement on Aug. 15.
In January, the two men — Brian Kidd and Sean Venegas — described how they were stopped in Southwest Atlanta by three Red Dog officers on June 30, 2010, and were groped while a cavity search was also conducted in the middle of the street and in broad daylight.
The three officers were Cheyenne Mayes, Dion Meredith and Travis Britt.
Mayes was a part of the unit when it took part in raid of the Eagle in 2009; he was recently fired after scathing investigations into the raid showed how officers did not follow procedures during the raid as well as lied and destroyed cell phone data that included information about the raid. Meredith was also involved in the Eagle raid but was only given a written reprimand for his part in the raid.
In the strip search allegations, Mayes and Britt were found to have violated the department's search and seizure policy in an internal investigation while Meredith was cleared of charges, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
In a complaint filed with the APD's Office of Professional Standards, Kidd described what happened: "I saw Officer Meredith pulled Shawn’s pants forward and look into the front of his pants and underwear and then pull down his pants down from behind, but then I looked away because of what the officer was doing to Shawn," Kidd stated.
"Later Shawn told me that Officer Meredith touched him in the genitals during the search and made him spread his butt cheeks apart. This really upset Shawn. Officer Britt made me pull my pants and my underwear out so he could look in them, and he did not find anything. They did not find anything on Shawn either," Kidd stated.
Kidd reported that he was arrested for an outstanding bench warrant in DeKalb County, then searched again.
"Officer Britt told me that I was under arrest for the warrants and put handcuffs on me. While my hands were behind my back, he opened my belt and pants and reached inside my underwear and searched and touched my testicles and found nothing illegal. I was shocked that the officer would put his hands down into my pants and touch my testicles like this. After I was searched, the officer took me to the police car."
In the OPS complaint, Kidd notes that all charges from DeKalb were later dismissed except for driving without a license. He paid a fine and the case is closed.
Venegas' complaint offers similar details, and states that the officers approached the pulled-over car with guns drawn.
"Officer Mayes pulled my pants open in the front and looked down into my pants, then he did something that shocked and really upset me," Venegas wrote in the complaint. "He put his hands down into my pants and felt in the area of my testicles. He found no drugs or anything else illegal in my pants or otherwise."
Venegas said that the officers searched his trunk without his permission, then Officer Meredith searched him again.
"First the officer checking my pants pockets again and looked into my pants in the front, again. Then, like Officer Mayes had done, he reached into my underwear and felt inside my pants. Next, he grabbed the back of my pants and pulled them and my boxer shorts down, in the middle of the street in downtown Atlanta. Then he spread my butt cheeks apart, and I guess he looked in my butt. He found nothing, and then he humiliated me even more by telling me to pull my own butt cheeks apart, so he could look even better, into my butt. I was so scared and upset. Again, they found no drugs," Venegas stated in the complaint.
Venegas added in his complaint the officers destroyed his faith in the police department.
"These officers, without a warrant and without probable cause, held me against my will, pointed a gun at me, slammed me into my car, searched my car without permission, searched my body without permission, humiliated me on a public street and treated me like a common criminal when I had done nothing wrong, charged me with a traffic offense which I did not commit and then, without any apology or explanation simply told me that it was just what happens, as if they had done nothing wrong," he said.
"These officers violated me physically and destroyed my trust in police officers who I have always respected."
Venegas was eventually charged with failing to stop at a stop sign.
The APD issued a statement at the time the complaints were made public:
"The Atlanta Police Department is in the process of concluding the internal investigation into this matter. There is evidence to suggest that some of the officers' actions during this traffic stop were inappropriate. As a result, Chief Turner intends to move swiftly to discipline some of the officers with actions — up to, and including, dismissal. All three officers involved have been placed on administrative duty in non-enforcement capacity pending disciplinary decisions. The Atlanta Police Department expects its officers to be truthful at all times, to follow all policies and procedures and to follow all of the local, state and federal laws they are sworn to uphold. Failure to do so will not be tolerated."
Kidd and Venegas are represented by Dan Grossman, who also represented the Eagle plaintiffs in its successful federal civil lawsuit against the city that cost taxpayers $1.025 million.
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