Atlanta, police department sued over gay bar raid

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ATLANTA - A national gay rights group filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Department on behalf of 19 people who say they were illegally searched and detained during a late-night raid on a crowded gay bar.

The lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal and other groups contends that the police department backed an illegal policy of searching and detaining every patron of the Atlanta Eagle Bar, regardless of whether they were suspected of a crime. It said terrorized patrons were forced to lie on beer-soaked floors while police conducted background checks and hurled anti-gay slurs.

None of the 62 patrons were arrested during the Sept. 10 raid on the midtown Atlanta bar, but eight employees were charged with code violations.

Roger Bhandari, the city's attorney, declined comment because he has not yet reviewed the lawsuit.

Police officials, who also declined comment, said at the time they were responding to anonymous tips alleging drug use and sexual activity at the bar. Police records show that undercover officers had also been to the club and witnessed men having sex while others watched.

The raid has galvanized the city's gay community, leading upset activists to host rallies, prod Atlanta's mayoral candidates and file complaints claiming the officers used excessive force and anti-gay language. The legal challenge is the strongest step yet, calling for a stop to similar bar raids and financial damages for the victim.

"The police thought they could get away with something that is so blatantly off the chain illegal," said Dan Grossman, an attorney for several of the plaintiffs. "They thought this was a soft target of people who wouldn't defend themselves, but they would do this to anyone."

Four plaintiffs said they didn't see any illegal activity at the bar at the time of the raid, and that the patrons were enjoying drinks, watching TV and playing pool when the police came in. Several said they thought the bar was being invaded by criminals, not uniformed officers.

"My first thought was, 'We're getting robbed,'" said Geoffrey Calhoun, 35, who is a 911 dispatcher. He said he felt "dehumanized" by the raid.

Mark Danak was relaxing at the bar after his weekly choir practice and had just asked the bartender to flip the TV to the Georgia Tech football game when he heard an officer shout "Hit the ground." He said he spent the next hour with his face on the floor.

"I'm sorry, that was not right," said Danak, a 38-year-old IT operator. "When rights get violated like this, people need to stand up."

The lawsuit seeks police documents detailing how often these types of raids are conducted and asks a federal judge to block them. Gerry Weber of the Southern Center for Human Rights said doing so would be a first step in delivering justice to the bar's patrons.

"It's not about gay or straight, black or white," said Weber. "It's about innocents being treated as criminals."

Comments (9)

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JerryAtrick
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JerryAtrick 11/25/09 - 03:49 am
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I hope the officers receive

I hope the officers receive extra (bio)hazard pay for having to do searches for "alleged sexual activity" at a gay bar.

TrukinRanger
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TrukinRanger 11/25/09 - 05:47 am
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My don't you sound like a

Unpublished

My don't you sound like a moron this morning Jerry. This raid was idiotic. I hope these victims win their lawsuit against APD. They had no right to invade this bar and do what they did to their patrons. They had no evidence of illegal activities and should be severely punished. Not a single patron was arrested or cited for illegal activity. From the CNN website it says that the reason employees were cited was because they had dancers that only got down to their underwear- big deal.

JerryAtrick
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JerryAtrick 11/25/09 - 05:58 am
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Trukin' - Hey man, if that's

Trukin' - Hey man, if that's your thing, enjoy!

JohnTaurus
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JohnTaurus 11/25/09 - 06:04 am
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The police CAN get away with

The police CAN get away with violating the law. I don't care for "Bunghole Cowboys" but the police should stick to arresting thieves, disturbers of the peace, and murderers. The police often lie to justify a violation of the Constitutional Rights of a citizen.

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 11/25/09 - 06:21 am
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Ha! I find it very hard to

Ha! I find it very hard to believe that these gays didn't enjoy being frisked! I also think that the so-called anti-gay slurs made to them was probably the officers calling the gays "Sir" or "Mr.", when they would rather be referred to as "Miss" or "Ma'am"! I know I sure sound anti-gay, but I just can't help but think this is funny. I also believe whole-heartedly that these police were instructed to proceed with their raid because they knew that those sex-acts were being committed there...they were either just too late or too early. Now the gays are using the "they're picking on us because we're gay" line to get people to feel sorry for them. And John, I understand your post, but I think it's one of those situations that there were complaints of illegal activity made, and those complaints weigh just the same as someone's complaints of illegal activities involving prostitution, gambling, and drug sales that might be going on in a neighborhood. So, the police are required to act on all complaints...this being one of the many.

spdermn78
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spdermn78 11/25/09 - 07:06 am
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I love this part "Mark Danak

I love this part "Mark Danak was relaxing at the bar after his weekly choir practice..." Gotta love leaving Church and head straight to a Gay bar.

spdermn78
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spdermn78 11/25/09 - 07:09 am
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I promise you that these

I promise you that these illegal acts werent just witnessed one or two times. I am sure APD conducted an extensive investigation before raiding a gay bar. I am sure APD knows there are pleenty of undercover gay lawyers, doctors, judges, and husbands who were at this club at different times. lol

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
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ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 11/25/09 - 07:51 am
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Some people are very quick to

Some people are very quick to condemn the Police after reading an article based upon nothing but statements from the supposed injured party. I wonder if these negative commenters may have been offended because they weren't searched enough at the bar!!!!

InChristLove
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InChristLove 11/25/09 - 09:23 am
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So quick to judge

So quick to judge spdermn78....There are other choirs beside church choirs. Schools and universities have choirs, outside art organizations have choirs, militaries have choirs. No where in the article did it say he left "church" choir practice.

JohnTaurus
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JohnTaurus 11/25/09 - 01:38 pm
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As long as the Bunghole

As long as the Bunghole Cowboys are not bothering anyone else, whose business is it to distrub them??? There seems to be some kind of rule that anywhere happines dwells, it must be eliminated and dispair, misery, woe, grief and sorrow left in its place. They are leaving more women for the rest of us who like the "Real Thang"!

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