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|Atlanta police chief: Not enough evidence to fire some Eagle raid officers|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|August 05, 2011 00:00|
Five police officers accused of lying or destroying evidence related to the botched Atlanta Eagle gay bar raid avoided being fired because the allegations against them were based only on circumstantial evidence, according to Atlanta Police Chief George Turner.
Turner sat down with the Atlanta Police Department’s LGBT Advisory Board on July 27, at his office at Public Safety Headquarters. With the chief were City Attorney Cathy Hampton, senior assistant city attorney Amber Robinson, APD spokesperson Carlos Campos, Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Peter Aman, LGBT liaisons Officers Brian Sharp and Patricia Powell, Major Erica Shields and Deputy Chief Renee Propes, who is openly gay.
LGBT advisory board members present were Glen Paul Freedman, Tracy Elliott, Philip Rafshoon, Ebonee Bradford-Barnes, Josh Noblitt, Molly Simmons and Terence McPhaul. Absent from the meeting were board members Betty Couvertier and Tracee McDaniel.
On July 26, the entire board met with Mayor Kasim Reed, Aman, the mayor’s spokespersons Sonji Jacobs and Reese McCranie, as well as the police LGBT liaisons.
In meeting with the chief, the board wanted to specifically know why five officers who were found to have likely lied about deleting cell phone data related to the September 2009 Eagle raid were not fired while others who were determined to have done so were fired.
In total, six officers of more than 30 involved in the raid were fired as a direct result of investigative reports conducted by the APD’s Office of Professional Standards and an independent report by high-profile law firm Greenberg Traurig. The reports were released to the public on June 28.
The five officers who were not fired that the board specifically asked about were Sgt. Kelly Collier, Officers William Walters, Dion Meredith, Dimitri Jacques and Marlon Noble.
According to the Greenberg Traurig report, each of these men likely deleted cell phone data after they were asked to turn over their cell phones to the city’s Department of Homeland Security as part of a federal civil lawsuit by patrons of the bar against the city. The city eventually settled the lawsuit in December for just over $1 million.
According to board member Philip Rafshoon, Chief Turner said these five officers were not fired because the Greenberg Traurig presented “circumstantial evidence” that they deleted cell phone data.
And, because no hard evidence was given in the report, Turner told the board he could not fire them because the officers would likely appeal the firing to the city’s Civil Service Review Board, an independent panel of citizens who can either uphold or overturn a firing.
“They want to be able to fire people and have them stayed fired,” Noblitt said.
Cell phone data deleted?
Also, because there were conflicting reports of when the law department informed the officers to turn in their cell phones, there was an added layer of unease by the chief to fire these specific officers, according to board members.
Carlos Campos, spokesperson for the APD, added that it undermines Chief Turner’s authority if he fires someone and then has the firing be overturned by the Civil Service Review Board.
According to the Greenberg Traurig report, the five officers named by the LGBT Advisory Board all seem to have deleted cell phone data and then lied about it.
“It is apparent that certain officers made little or no effort to preserve material relevant to the Eagle Raid. Moreover, it appears that officers engaged in active deletion of cell phone data,” the report states.
For the officers named by the board, the report states:
• Sergeant Collier — No call log or text message data recovered earlier than August 31, 2010. iPhone memory contained image files dating to June 12, 2009.
All of this information is circumstantial, however, the chief told board members, and not basis to fire the officers. However, another investigation is under way for the next three weeks to see if more officers would be fired.
But City Attorney Cathy Hampton did tell the board she was uncomfortable knowing these officers and their names were part of a public record that indicates they have lied — which could be used by defense attorneys in other cases involving the officers.
“She said that’s what keeps her up at night,” said Tracy Elliott.
Mayor wants ‘civil forum’ on raid
In the meeting with Mayor Reed, the board discussed the same officers and the fact more officers involved in the Eagle raid were not fired. Reed told them he would conduct what he dubbed a “global review” of the officers.
Noblitt added that the mayor said while he apologized to the plaintiffs in the successful federal lawsuit against the city, he understands that there is still a lot of pain within the community.
But, Noblitt said, Reed said he had done everything possible to “make this right.”
Mayor Reed and Chief Turner agreed to attend a town hall forum after Aug. 15 to discuss the Eagle raid. Reed told board members he wanted to be treated with respect at the town hall, however, and that he would treat those in attendance with respect.
“He would ask that no one attack him verbally and that it be a civil forum,” Freedman said.
The mayor also agreed to three dinners with LGBT groups and individuals to discuss the fallout of the Eagle raid.
Top photo: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Police Chief George Turner (pictured) recently met with members of the police LGBT Advisory Board to discuss punishments of Eagle raid officers. (File photo)
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