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|Citizens Review Board weighs Atlanta Eagle cases|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|June 25, 2010 00:00|
The Atlanta Citizens Review Board will discuss the cases of Atlanta Eagle co-owner Robby Kelley and doorman Ernest Buehl at its July 8 meeting. The two men allege that the Atlanta Police Department, including members of the notorious Red Dog Unit, used abusive language toward them during the Sept. 10 raid on the gay bar.
The CRB took up its first of a total of 14 Atlanta Eagle complaints on June 10 when it upheld manager David Shepherd’s complaint that he was falsely arrested during the raid. The board also recommended Officer B.E. Bridges be issued a written reprimand to go into his personnel file and Officer John Brock be punished with a three-day suspension for their roles in Shepherd’s arrest. Atlanta Interim Police Chief George Turner has 30 days to respond to the CRB recommendations.
Shepherd was in his apartment above the bar when the raid took place and was not on duty when police arrested him and charged him with license and permit violations.
The police alleged the bar was operating as an adult entertainment venue without proper licensing from the city during its “Underwear Night” in which men danced in their underwear for tips.
“The report contained no allegation against Shepherd,” CRB Executive Director Cristina Beamud said at the June 10 public meeting. “This man was guilty of watching TV.”
Seth Kirschenbaum, a criminal defense attorney and vice chair of the board serving at his last meeting, at first agreed Shepherd’s complaint was easy to uphold. But he later questioned if going just after the arresting officers was enough.
“To have Red Dog come to ride herd on them while their [the patrons’] personal information was extracted — I think the real responsibility lies at a higher level. It’s a terrible mistake just to punish these officers who were part of a big, concerted, coordinated effort organized by higher ups,” Kirschenbaum said. “We have the responsibility to go up the chain of command to ask who knew what and when did they know it.”
In March, the eight employees arrested in the raid, known as the Eagle 8, went on trial for license and permit violations. Bridges and Brock both testified at the trial. Bridges misidentified several of the defendants who had their charges dismissed during the course of the trial. Charges were dismissed against Shepherd, bartender Chris Lopez, Buehl and Robert Kline. Kelley and dancers Thadeus Johnson and Leandro Apud were found not guilty. Dancer Antonio Benitez did not appear in court and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.
Before the board voted on recommendations for discipline, Joy Morrissey, chair of the CRB and who is openly gay, reported that Bridges and Brock each had several personnel complaints on file against them.
Brock has been with APD since 1992 and has 21 complaints filed against him, Morrissey said, which consisted mostly of not appearing in court. During the trial, Brock described one dancer as wearing a “diaper.”
Bridges is a 19-year veteran of the APD and has 32 complaints filed against him, including having the smell of alcohol on his breath during roll call of the police academy one morning, using excessive force and lying about driving drunk during a hit and run crash he was responsible for.
Bridges testified during the Eagle 8 trial he purchased several beers while doing surveillance the night of the raid but was not drunk because he only took one or two sips of each drink before throwing the beer away.
“I have no doubt his days are numbered,” Morrissey said of Bridges.
The APD’s Office of Professional Standards is also investigating numerous complaints from patrons and employees of the bar who allege they were mistreated and even had anti-gay slurs used against them during the controversial raid.
Those complaints were filed shortly after the raid took place and are still being reviewed with no timeline set for the internal investigation to be completed, said Sgt. Curtis Davenport, spokesperson for the APD.
A federal civil lawsuit filed by several patrons and employees of the bar against the city of Atlanta and the APD is ongoing.
Top photo: Joy Morrissey, a lesbian who serves as chair of the Atlanta Citizens Review Board, noted that two police officers involved in the Eagle raid faced numerous personnel complaints. The board recommended disciplinary action. (by Dyana Bagby)
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