Atlanta Police Defend Eagle Raid, Think They Can Search Everyone at a Public Place

by Dan Grossman on October 31, 2009

According to an article the Southern Voice newspaper on October 30, 2009: “The police have denied any wrongdoing in the raid and have said that they had the right to search everyone in the bar that night because there was suspected illegal activity taking place inside the venue.”

The Police are simply wrong.

The United States Supreme Court and other Federal courts have made it clear that police do not have the right to detain or search individuals simply because they are present in a public place where illegal activity may be occurring. For example, in a 1979 case involving the search of a bar, the Supreme Court specifically ruled that it was illegal for police to search all the patrons simply because they were present in the bar. The Court ruled that “a person’s mere propinquity [closeness] to others independently suspected of criminal activity does not, without more, give rise to probable cause to search that person.” The Supreme Court explained that “a search or seizure of a person must be supported by probable cause particularized with respect to that person. Ybarra v. Illinois, United States Supreme Court, 1979 (emphasis added).

In another case involving the search of every patron at a bar, the United States Court of Appeals explained that it is illegal for police to frisk “a person in a public place where the officers have no specific … facts on which to base a suspicion of that person in particular.”  As the court said: “the sole fact that an individual … happens to be in a public place” where someone else might be committing a crime “does not provide a basis for a … search.” U.S. v. Jaramillo (1994).

The Federal court explained that “it is not reasonable to assume that all of the persons at a public bar have … a connection.”

When the Atlanta Police entered the Eagle, they encountered dozens of patrons who were fully dressed and who could not possibly have been suspected of dancing in underwear without a permit, lewd acts, indecent exposure, or any other crime, and yet they threw these individuals to the ground, searched them, forced them to lay face-down on the floor for more than 30 minutes (and in some cases much longer), and entered all their names into a police computer.

As the Supreme Court explained in in U.S. v. Cortez (1981), a police officer may stop someone only if the officer has a reasonable suspicion “that the particular individual being stopped is engaged in wrongdoing.”  Police officers simply do not have the right to search or detain individuals who are not personally suspected of doing anything illegal, simply because they are in a particular public place.

The Atlanta police claim they have the right to search everyone in a public place if there is “suspected illegal activity taking place inside the venue.” Under that theory, the police could search everyone present in a department store if they observe someone shoplifting.

These issues are discussed in greater detail on the page about the Legal Issues in this case.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

roger November 18, 2009 at 10:44 pm

No legal mind here, but is a civil or criminal suit pending? “Nailing these people back” is the only language they understand.

[Reply]

Milkman November 4, 2009 at 8:28 am

This particular form of gay discrimination seems to happen everywhere in the southern states. It happened to me and my X when we lived in Nola. We were out enjoying a friday night at the “Ninth Circle” when 8-10 undercover cops who had no visible badges came in, closed the doors and proceeded to search everyone at the bar. They didn’t make anyone lay on the ground but they were rough with almost everyone. The only people who went to jail were the ones who questioned, or refused to be searched. They found no drugs or anything illegal. I think these pigs need to wake up and realize this isn’t the 70’s when they could get away with taking gay people to jail for being gay on a friday night. My friend who grew up in the 70’s openly gay, said that the cops would go on Bourbon St. every weekend and arrest any gay man who was on the street for charges like, lude conduct and obstruction of public property (sidewalk). The way they dealt with it was to make sure that every weekend EVERYONE would stand on the sidewalk and just wait for it to happen and made sure nobody was violent. After several months of this, the crowd of people grew larger and larger until they could no longer take everyone to jail. They even made a game of it. Who could get all the way to jail with their cocktail. My point is, those days are gone because our gay brothers and sisters made these types of sacrifices and some payed with their lives. We can’t allow our state or federal government to think that this type of behavior is okay if its only practiced on the minority. Otherwise the efforts of our gay brothers and sisters who paved the way will be in vane. If there is a march in Atlanta over what has happened, you can bet your cock ring I’ll be there!

[Reply]

Renegade November 4, 2009 at 12:33 am

My suggestion is a simple one for those of us who visit ATL. I WILL spend my money in The Eagle. BUT… I can easily BUY MY GAS AND MY HOTEL OUTSIDE THE CITY LIMITS. That’s not too much to ask. We just have to make sure the city knows it.

[Reply]

mark November 3, 2009 at 8:08 pm

A group of 10 from Virginia were down not only for the football game over labor day but for Xplosion. We figure we spent about $8000 while in Atlanta sight seeing and visiting restaurants, taxis and hotel rooms. We did visit some gay friendly establishments but now I fear that not only will we not feel comfortable at the bars, we may not decide to return to Atlanta for Sports or entertainment of any kind.
I hope Atlanta’s police will realize that they may have cost the city some really needed revenue..

[Reply]

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