Federal Lawsuit Filed By Nineteen Patrons of Gay Club in Atlanta

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Atlanta, GA—Nineteen patrons of a gay club who claim that they were forcibly searched, detained, and forced to lie down in spilled beer and broken glass, have filed a federal lawsuit against Atlanta police.

The allegations stem from a September 10 raid at the Atlanta Eagle, in which the Atlanta Police Department dispatched 20 to 30 officers, including a SWAT team in full gear, according to a statement made by Lambda Legal Defense Fund, the gay-rights group that filed the suit on behalf of the patrons. “But inside the bar, the APD found no public sex, no drugs or illegal weapons.”

Additionally, none of the club’s patrons were charged with any crime.

Yet authorities searched everyone on the property, seized their driver’s licenses or other identification, and ran background checks on them. Some patrons were restrained with handcuffs. Others were the victims of excessive force, as police officers shoved them to the floor and kicked them while the lay on the floor. The patrons were forced to lie on the floor while the background checks were conducted, despite there being broken glass and spilled beer on the floor. One of the patrons, a former Iraq War veteran who had injured his back during service, protested being made to lie down but was forced to regardless.

Others asked permission of the police to move away from the broken glass, but were told to “stay down and shut the [expletive] up,” according to the lawsuit. Patrons who asked questions were told to shut up, threatened with arrest for disorderly conduct, or threatened with physical harm. They were made to lie on the floor between 30 minutes and two hours, as they were released either in small groups or individually.

The SWAT-style team, a special force unit called the “Red Dog Unit” provides “aggressive police presence” in areas with high drug traffic, according to the Atlanta Police Department’s Web site. The officers in that unit were wearing paramilitary-style black clothing and were therefore not immediately recognizable as law enforcement officers. Prior to their arrival, undercover officers had entered the bar and ordered drinks, before “screaming at patrons and employees to ‘hit the floor’ and get down on the ground,” said the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

The suit names Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington and 48 officers who were at the bar on the night of the raid. It also alleges that the patrons at the Eagle that night heard anti-gay slurs.

 

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