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|Atlanta police investigate allegation of misconduct at Blake's|
|Written by Dyana Bagby|
|Tuesday, 24 January 2012 09:33|
The Atlanta Police Department is conducting an official investigation into allegations of police misconduct during the arrest of two men at Blake's on the Park. Management of the popular Midtown gay bar, however, is praising the APD's handling of the incident.
APD Deputy Chief Renee Propes, who is openly gay, said during Monday's Atlanta Police LGBT Advisory Board meeting that an Office of Professional Standard investigation was opened this week after an allegation a police officer ordered a patron at the popular Midtown gay bar to delete video off his cellphone during the arrest of two unruly patrons.
The alleged misconduct occurred late Friday, Jan. 20, when APD was called to the bar for backup after a fight broke out, including one of the patrons arrested allegedly throwing a drink in the face of an off-duty officer working security and then allegedly knocking his glasses off his face. The patron also allegedly punched Blake's manager Doug Edmisten in the head.
The lone allegation of misconduct is made by an anonymous male. The APD contacted him to ask about the allegations he made and he has yet to make an official statement with OPS and is asking to remain anonymous, according to Propes and the city's law department. At least seven other witnesses gave statements to the APD the night of the incident and none said any misconduct occurred, according to Major Chris Leighty, commander of Zone 5 that includes Blake's.
The manager and senior bartender at Blake's disputed the claims made by the individual and said the APD acted professionally and with respect toward its customers after two customers became "belligerent" and a "scuffle" broke out between them and employees of the bar including an off-duty officer. Lynn Barfield, known as "Mama Lynn" to many of Blake's customers and a 2011 Atlanta Pride Grand Marshal, also said there was no misconduct by the APD.
Edmisten described what happened Friday night and said there were two "belligerent" customers who he asked to leave the bar. When they refused, Edmisten asked for assistance from the off-duty officer who also asked the men to leave.
Edmisten said at that point one of the two patrons threw a drink in the off-duty officer's face and attempted to hit him and then punched Edmisten in the head.
As Edmisten and the off-duty officer were escorting the men out the back door and into the parking lot, one of the patrons started fighting with the off-duty officer. The patron was handcuffed and APD backup was called, Edmisten said.
By the time the backup officers arrived, the two patrons were outside in the parking lot. At no time did the backup officers enter the bar, he said.
The first responding officer then handcuffed the second patron.
"I did not hear an officer at any time to ask anyone to stop videotaping the incident," Edmisten said. "The backup APD did not call anyone names such as 'princess' as stated in the media as I had moved everyone back into the bar.
"The backup APD arrived quickly and were totally professional. I think this is an embarrassment for anyone to try to link this incident to the Atlanta Eagle," he said.
Major: APD understands 'healing process' continues after Eagle raid
Major Leighty said the APD understands the LGBT community is still bruised from fallout of the police raid on the Atlanta Eagle in 2009.
"The APD takes these type of allegations seriously," Leighty said of the accusations made by the Blake's patron.
"This is all all still part of the healing process and we understand that. We had a very tragic incident that occurred at the Atlanta Eagle club that we realized compromised our trust with the community," he said. "Everyone within city government wants to make sure our relationships are normalized with all our communities, including the LGBT community."
Leighty asked for anyone who had any information, include cellphone video or audio, to "come forward and be forthright."
"That's what it's going to take to build trust," he said.
"When these allegations first came up I found it hard to believe first and foremost any one of us would be that stupid to make someone stop filming or make any derogatory comment," he added.
"If anyone was harmed, [the officer] will be disciplined. Ladies and gentlemen, that type of behavior will not be tolerated int he Atlanta Police Department any longer," Leighty said.
Top photo: Atlanta Police Major Chris Leighty, Zone 5 commander. (by Dyana Bagby)
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