Settlement in “Atlanta Eagle” case reforms Atlanta Police practices; Plaintiffs were “unlawfully searched and detained;” City to pay $1,025,000

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia has entered an Order approving settlement of the “Atlanta Eagle Raid” case, Calhoun v. Pennington.

[Download Order]   [Download police reforms]   [Download summary of reforms]

The settlement imposes significant changes to Atlanta Police Department policies, including the revocation of specific unconstitutional Standard Operating Procedures regarding arrests, warrantless searches, and “Terry stops” made without reasonable suspicion.  The settlement will require APD to discontinue its unlawful practice of conducting ID and warrant checks of all persons at a scene of “illegal activity” without regard to individual suspicion, and includes other reforms designed to deter police misconduct and hold Atlanta police officers accountable for their actions.

The Order:

  • Requires revocation or amendment of specific unconstitutional policies;
  • Requires uniformed Atlanta police officers to wear clearly visible nametags and to identify themselves upon request;
  • Prohibits Atlanta police officers from interfering with the public’s right to take photographs and make video and audio recordings of police activity;
  • Requires Atlanta police officers to document certain warrantless ID checks, detentions, frisks, and searches;
  • Requires the City of Atlanta to conduct mandatory in-person training of all police officers every two years regarding Fourth Amendment issues and the safe use of firearms;
  • Requires the Atlanta Police Department to rule on citizen complaints of police misconduct within 180 days;
  • Requires the Atlanta Police Department to conduct a thorough and meaningful investigation of specific types of misconduct, failure to obey the law, and untruthfulness by officers involved in the “Eagle Raid.”

The settlement also requires the City of Atlanta to pay $1,025,000 and includes a finding by the Court that “each of the above-named Plaintiffs was unlawfully searched, detained, and/or arrested on September 10-11, 2009, at the Atlanta Eagle in Atlanta, Georgia, and that none of the Plaintiffs was personally suspected of any criminal activity.”

The plaintiffs were represented by Atlanta attorney Dan Grossman as lead counsel, supported by lawyers from Lambda Legal, the Southern Center for Human Rights, and Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P.

The lawsuit, Calhoun v. Pennington [download complaint], arose from a warrantless, SWAT-style police raid on a gay bar called the Atlanta Eagle on September 10-11, 2009.  Dozens of bar patrons who were not suspected of criminal activity were forced to lay flat on the floor (some in spilled beer and broken glass) for up to two hours while police officers searched their pockets, frisked them for weapons, took their IDs and entered their names into a police computer.  Police officers pointed weapons at some patrons, handcuffed some patrons, and certain officers made racist and anti-gay slurs and threatened physical violence to patrons who questioned what was taking place.  Most officers did not wear nametags, and they refused to identify themselves when asked their names.  Police officers searched the bar’s cash registers, manager’s office, and locked storage areas without a warrant, and officers arrested an off-duty assistant manager, who lived in an apartment on the second floor of the building, in his home without a warrant.

Unconstitutional Practices and Policies

According to senior commanders of the Atlanta Police Department the raid was conducted according to the standard APD practice.  Major Debra Williams, commander of the units that conducted the raid, stated: “Once we’re inside a location based on any illegal activity, for the safety of not only the citizens of the city of Atlanta but for the safety of the patrons and the officers, we conduct warrant checks on all the patrons, on everyone.”   Deputy Police Chief Carlos Banda stated that it was APD policy to “do criminal history checks on everybody when we hit an establishment, no matter what it is.”  According to Banda’s [incorrect] interpretation of the law, if an officer sees a crime being committed in a location, he has probable cause to search “the whole body [i.e, everyone present], not just one individual.”

The Atlanta Police Department also had formal, written policies which authorized suspcionless seizures, frisks, and searches, include Standard Operating Procedure 3065 (which authorized and instructed officers to detain and frisk individuals without regard to reasonable articulable suspicion) and Standard Operating Procedure 3020 (which authorized officers to perform warrantless searches without probable cause).

As part of the Procedural Reforms required by the Eagle settlement, the Atlanta Police Department is required to revoke these unlawful policies.  The reforms in the Order are intended to deter future police misconduct of the type experienced by the patrons of the Atlanta Eagle.

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MidtownATL December 15, 2010 at 10:14 am

Atlanta prides itself on just how far it has come with regard to tolerance and civil rights in it’s history. Those who have not come along with thew rest of us should not have badges. As far as I am concerned this case is not closed until all those officers that abused citizens that day lose their jobs and are in jail. Until then the APD deserves no support, cooperation, compliance, or pay from anyone in Atlanta.

IPlayFair December 9, 2010 at 12:04 am

I read the court order and I wondered being that the Atlanta Police Department is an accredited law enforcement agency (CALEA), shouldn’t the police department have these reforms in place already? Oh, I forgot, CALEA is something the police chief brags about and hang the CALEA seal on department walls and police cruisers to give the citizens the illusion that the department is a professional organization. What a joke!

Di Di Mau December 8, 2010 at 11:28 pm

This case occurred after Catherine Johnson. Now, you are telling me that this department has not learned anything from that case. Second, the lawyer for the plaintiffs indicated that he offered to settle the case with no money if the city agreed to change the police department operating procedures. The Chief and the Mayor refused. My question is, did the mayor or chief consult with the city law department to determine if the police department committed any wrongful acts?

Fundamentally, this police department is corrupt. It needs a thorough cleaning.

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