Lambda Legal is representing 19 individuals who were forcibly searched and detained at the Atlanta Eagle bar during the raid. In its filing, the group called the raid “illegal.”
“The illegal activity going on in the Atlanta Eagle that night was committed by the APD [Atlanta Police Department],” Greg Nevins, supervising senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta, said in a statement.
“If it is APD procedure for elderly men and wounded veterans to be thrown to the floor and harassed simply for being in a bar having a drink after work, then the APD should change its procedure,” he said.
Police raided the bar located at 306 Ponce De Leon Avenue in the city's Midtown section at about 11PM. Eight staff members were arrested and charged with providing adult entertainment without a license. The men were released the next evening after elected officials intervened on their behalf.
According to patrons present during the raid, no one was allowed to leave the building until after police had leisurely checked the IDs of 62 patrons forced to lay prone on the floor. Police collected IDs and personal belongings. Challengers were told “Don't speak until spoken to” or “Shut up.”
“The Atlanta Police Department is not above the law,” Dan Grossman, co-counsel in the case, said. “They do not get to search and detain people who are not suspected of any crime.”
Police Chief Richard Pennington has said that the raid was prompted by allegations of illegal sex. Pennington told reporters in September that vice officers had observed men having sex in the bar while other patrons watched on multiple occasions. Initial complaints filed in May also alleged drugs were being sold in the bar. The tips, he said, came in anonymously. Pennington is listed as a defendant in the case, Calhoun v. Pennington.
Twenty-one officers, including nine plain-clothed undercover officers, arrived on the scene with three jail vans in tow and without a search warrant. Members of the Red Dog unit, typically used in drug investigations, also participated in the raid.
Officers have conceded they found no illegal drugs or sexual activity during the raid.
The raid came on the heels of another high-profile gay bar raid in Fort Worth, Texas that has resulted in numerous investigations and the firing of 3 state employees.
Both raids drew widespread condemnation from gay rights groups and community leaders outraged by what they called “police harassment.”