ATLANTA --- A federal judge approved a legal settlement Wednesday requiring that Atlanta pay more than $1 million to people illegally detained during a raid on a gay bar, change police department policy and investigate the conduct of its officers.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Batten said that evidence in the case showed the plaintiffs were unlawfully searched, detained or arrested during a Sept. 10, 2009, raid on the Atlanta Eagle Bar. The judge said none of the plaintiffs were personally suspected of criminal wrongdoing.
Greg Nevins, an attorney in Lambda Legal's southern regional office, praised the plaintiffs in the case for stepping forward. The settlement effectively ends the lawsuit.
"Because they did the right thing, the Atlanta Police Department will be a better force for good in the community," Nevins said. "Nobody in this city should have to endure the inexcusable law enforcement conduct that occurred 15 months ago at the Atlanta Eagle."
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the city council approved the settlement earlier this month. Reed, who apologized to the people who filed the lawsuit, said he hoped the agreement will improve relations between police and the city's gay community.
"I believe that what occurred that evening should not have happened and should not happen again," Reed said.
Police previously said they were responding to anonymous tips alleging drug use and sexual activity at the bar. Undercover officers reported visiting the club and seeing men having sex while others watched.
The settlement requires that Atlanta police officers not stop people or search them for weapons without reasonable suspicion or belief that they have committed a crime or are armed.
Police must also document certain warrantless detentions and searches. The new policies prevent officers from stopping people from making photo, video or audio recordings of police activity so long as it does not stop police from doing their jobs.
The agreement requires that uniformed police officers wear name tags and identify themselves upon request when interacting with civilians. The police department must rule on citizen complaints about police misconduct within 180 days and provide training every two years on the terms of the settlement.
As part of the deal, the police department must investigate the conduct of the police officers involved in the raid and the rules that guided it. Witnesses who saw the raid will be allowed to testify.