by James Whitely -
SGN Contributing Writer
On September 10, The Atlanta Police Department (APD) raided the Atlanta leather bar The Atlanta Eagle, at approximately 11:30 p.m. Using excessive force and questionable tactics, the raid has incited unrest in Atlanta's LBGT community, and has left Atlanta asking one question: Why?
SGN recently spoke with the co-owner of the Atlanta Eagle, Richard Ramey, who's run the business for more than 13 years. He agreed to shed some light on what happened the night of September 10-11, during the arguably unprecedented police raid on his business.
"We were having our underwear party. At approximately around 11p.m. or so, the police came in." Ramey estimates that 30 Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) officers were present, from the APD's "Red Dog Unit," a drug unit which, according to their website, "provides aggressive police presence in areas that have a high incidence of street drug sales, use, and drug related crimes."
"They were here for about two and one-half hours," Ramey told SGN.
Eight staff members were arrested and charged for not having the proper permit to work in an "adult entertainment facility," which the Atlanta Eagle has never claimed to be. "We're a nightclub and a bar," said Ramey.
According to Ramey, APD illegally searched 62 patrons. "After they weren't able to find any illegal drugs or weapons, they brought in a computer and ran the IDs of the 62 patrons. & They didn't even find an unpaid traffic ticket, so they called them out by ID, one by one, and released them. Throughout the ordeal, patrons were reportedly told to 'Shut the fuck up,' not to ask questions, and that they didn't have any rights," Ramey told SGN. The Eagle opened for business again the next day.
"Most - but not all - of the officers were incredibly derogatory and insulting, whether they found evidence of drugs or not," claimed one patron.
The APD has yet to give a satisfactory explanation as to why they entered the Atlanta Eagle with such force.
According to Ramey, 15-20 formal complaints have now been filed. "Our customers have been going on their own time, but a group of us did go down together to file formal complaints at the APD Office of Professional Standards the Monday after the raid."
In the initial APD statement, released the day after the raid, the APD said, "While there have been allegations of improper behavior by police officers conducting the investigation, there have not been any official complaints filed with the Atlanta Police Department." Although true at the time, the statement almost seemed like a call from someone within the APD for people to come forward about the incident.
"There are a lot of good police officers that protect our city, but there are always a few bad apples in the bunch," said Ramey, who supports the efforts of his community's police force, but believes this particular incident didn't go right at all.
However, this is not the first time the "Red Dog Unit" has dramatically overused force in their methods of stopping drug crimes. "It's apparent that there's some trouble with that unit," said Ramey, citing the Johnston case of 2006.
Kathryn Johnston, an elderly Atlanta woman, was shot in her home on November 21, 2006, by three RDU police officers. According to the court hearings, the police, using a "no-knock warrant," entered her home. Johnston, thinking they were burglars, used her personal firearm to fire a warning shot at the intruders. She was then shot by the officers, who left her handcuffed on the floor of her home. Johnston bled to death as officers planted marijuana on her to justify the shooting.
Two rallies/protests have spawned in the wake of the Eagle incident. On September 13, the Sunday after the raid, almost 1,000 people showed up in the Eagle parking lot.
"We came together as a community and held a rally & not really a protest. There was a lot of misinformation in the community about what people were arrested for," said Laura Gentle, a concerned community member. The rally served to educate and unite the community over the events of the raid and address the statement that the APD had released. "The statement didn't really address what was going on. We felt it was lacking," Gentle told SGN.
The second rally, which was sparsely attended due to weather, occurred outside city hall on September 19 and was intended as more of a protest. The Eagle staff had nothing to do with arranging either rally; both were organized in their entirety by the community and local Gay rights group GLBT Atlanta.
"This is not about the Atlanta Eagle; it's about the entire Gay community across the country. I think Atlanta has an incredible GLBT community, and this is the time for all of us to come together and support one another. We want to make sure our Gay brothers and sisters aren't afraid to come to, and support us, here in Atlanta," Ramey told SGN.
Atlanta Pride takes place on October 31, and Ramey wants to make sure that people from surrounding areas aren't afraid to come and be part of the Atlanta community. "We have to let everyone know the truth about what happened, so we can make sure we all have equal rights," said Ramey.
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