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|Will battle over the botched 2009 gay bar raid soon come to a close?|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|November 11, 2011 00:00|
Dan Grossman, attorney for patrons of the Atlanta Eagle the night the gay bar was raided, says courts are the worst place to solve problems. His nemesis in recent years, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, agrees wholeheartedly.
At a recent LGBT town hall forum to discuss the 2009 police raid, Grossman invited Reed to “do lunch.” The mayor accepted.
Although Reed himself has not reached out, as of press time, to Grossman to take him up on the offer for lunch or a face-to-face meeting, the city’s attorneys and Grossman were set to meet on Wednesday, Nov. 9, to discuss the second pending Eagle lawsuit as well as other issues.
One of those issues is another promise Reed made at the LGBT town hall forum, held Nov. 1 at Saint Mark United Methodist Church. Reed pledged to videotape a status conference with Eagle attorneys before a federal judge to determine if the city was fulfilling its obligations mandated in the first Eagle settlement in December.
The settlement required the city to implement numerous police reforms, including training on the Fourth Amendment to deter future illegal searches and detainments.
The mayor said he is ready to “stop having this argument” that the city is not fulfilling the Eagle settlement mandates.
“On Nov. 2, the city filed a request for a status conference and asked that the court allow the conference to be videotaped. The court has not yet responded to the city’s request. City attorneys will meet with Mr. Grossman Nov. 9 to discuss the status conference, among other issues,” said Reese McCranie, a spokesperson for Reed.
Grossman has said he wants him and the city to move beyond “beating each other up in court” and work on constructive and positive changes. The city and the mayor should want to do the right thing and ensure the officers in the Atlanta Police Department are not breaking laws or violating the constitutional rights of the city’s residents, Grossman said.
Grossman is also representing several young men who allege APD officers conducted illegal public strip searches of them. Reed said at the town hall forum he and his administration are trying to “change a culture” embedded within the police department and that can’t happen overnight. But, Reed added, he believes the city will eventually be better off after the arguing and court battles conclude.
“We’re going to end up in a better place, a better city,” Reed said.
More promises from the mayor
Reed made several other promises during the town hall meeting.
He pledged to send a representative from his office to a Nov. 2 community meeting on LGBT homeless youth. The mayor followed through and sent Amy Phuong, chief service officer for the City of Atlanta, to the forum.
McCranie said Reed also talked to Chief Turner about disciplinary actions taken against several officers involved in the Eagle raid who were not fired. Hillery Rink, an LGBT activist, expressed to the mayor at the town hall forum his concern about officers not fired but who were found to be untruthful in two investigative reports. If the “untruthful” officers remain on the force and on the street making arrests, more legal action could arise, costing taxpayers more money, Rink said.
Mayor Reed and Chief Turner discussed the global review of disciplinary decisions in Eagle,” Reed said Nov. 8. “The results of their discussion will be presented to the LGBT Police Advisory Board later this week and will then be made public.”
The Eagle case has so far cost taxpayers’ $1.025 million to settle the first federal lawsuit, another $120,000 to settle a second lawsuit and a third lawsuit is pending. A lawsuit by former Eagle bartender Chris Lopez is also pending.
City officials will not disclose the total cost of the lawsuits, including the cost of police presence during the raid and attorney fees for the lawsuits. While the city can pinpoint fairly easily how much money it is spending on police action against the Occupy Atlanta movement, when asked what the overall Eagle raid cost, an answer was not provided.
Asked how much the Greenberg Traurig independent investigative report cost the city, the Law Department responded:
“The Department of Law is the custodian of billing statements submitted for legal services performed by Greenberg Traurig in multiple legal matters, including the Atlanta Eagle matter. Please note that any information related to legal services performed in the context of the Atlanta Eagle matter is exempt in their entirety pursuant to the attorney-client privilege exemption.”
Reed on homophobia, gay marriage
Queer Justice League member Laura Gentle asked Reed at the forum how he could not address the “deep rooted homophobia” that must exist in the department after an investigation into the raid showed at least two officers involved in the Eagle raid held anti-gay beliefs.
“Will you acknowledge the APD has a problem with homophobia?” Gentle asked Reed. She also accused the city of being homophobic if not “immoral” for how it has handled the Eagle raid and lawsuits.
Reed denied this allegation. “The City of Atlanta’s record on how we treat LGBT employees is way ahead of everyone else,” he said.
Paul Schappaugh of Get EQUAL GA, also a member of QJL, wanted to know why Reed did not support gay marriage. Reed has stated publicly he does not support gay marriage due to personal beliefs, but that he does believe gay unions should be legally recognized.
Reed pointed to his 11-year history as a Georgia state representative and senator and his support of an employment non-discrimination act, a hate crimes law and battling against those who wanted to prohibit gay people from adopting. He also said he was one of the few people under the Gold Dome who voted against the state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
“I’m not the reason there’s a ban on same-sex marriage in the state of Georgia,” Reed said.
Time for Eagle patrons to let go?
Josh Noblitt, a minister at Saint Mark and a member of the Atlanta Police LGBT Advisory Board, concluded the town hall forum by asking the victims of the Eagle raid to forgive the police officers who violated their constitutional rights. Noblitt shared his recent experience forgiving the young men who attacked him and robbed him at gunpoint last year in Piedmont Park.
“I had a pretty profound experience in court with the people who attacked me ... and it was able to free me from anger,” Noblitt said.
“I did not get there alone. I just want to ask those who were involved in Eagle raid, those who were victims, to look inside and examine if there’s room for forgiveness of the officers who caused so much pain and trauma, to set yourself free,” he said.
Grossman said reconciliation is always good, but it wasn’t fair to ask only the victims to forgive. He said he believed forgiveness could be given if the individual officers in the raid apologized for their actions.
Top photo: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said at the Nov. 1 LGBT town hall meeting that he believes the city will be better after the rest of the Eagle lawsuits are finished. (by Dyana Bagby)
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