18 officers subpoenaed to testify in Eagle Bar raid
An Atlanta City Council committee today approved subpoenas for 18 police officers who have refused to cooperate with an investigation of a 2009 raid on the Atlanta Eagle gay bar.
The Committee on Council voted 4-0 to issue the Citizen Review Board’s request for the subpoenas. Committee chair Felicia Moore signed the subpoenas as soon as the meeting ended.
On Sept. 10, dozens of Eagle patrons were searched and forced to lie on the floor of the bar for 30 to 90 minutes as police investigated complaints of illegal sexual activity. Eight bar employees were arested for alleged license violations, but no patrons were charged.
The subpoenaed officers are among 39 who have refused to answer questions about the Eagle raid or other complaints filed with the review board. The officers typically appear with an attorney but remain silent as the questions are asked.
Don English, an attorney for the Police Benevolent Association, said today his clients would be happy to cooperate if their superiors ordered them to do so. Former Police Chief Richard Pennington and interim Chief George Turner have declined to issue that order or to discipline officers for refusing to cooperate.
Neither Turner nor other Police Department representatives appeared at today’s meeting to explain that position.
Several review board members told the committee they cannot provide oversight for the police department without officers’ cooperation. Said Seth Kirschenbaum, the panel’s vice chairman:
“For us, we think this is the watershed moment for the Citizen Review Board. … If these subpoenas are not issued, that means we’re done. Our business is over.”
The officers have argued they would give up their right against self-incrimination if they are forced to cooperate. The board, backed up by a city attorney’s opinion, contends a U.S. Supreme Court decision guarantees that statements made to the board could not be used in a criminal prosecution.
The subpoena process is a part of the ordinance establishing the board, created in the aftermath of the 2007 killing of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in a bungled drug raid.
Cristina Beamud, the board’s executive director, said she asked police brass in January to direct officers to cooperate. She said she never received a reply.
Her e-mail follows:
From: Beamud, Cristina
Sent: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 11:06 AM
To: Turner, George; Shields, Erika; Perdue, Moses
Cc: Aman, Peter T.; Robertson, Sheena; Addington, Marc
Dear Chief Turner and Majors Perdue and Shields:
First, let me tell you that it was a pleasure to meet with members of the Narcotics Unit yesterday. They were all very helpful. I will be sure to include their information and thoughts and ideas in my report.
Secondly, I wanted to let you know that Officer Harris appeared in the ACRB office today and refused to participate in an interview. I think you know that this violates the ordinance and that I am asking for you to impose the appropriate level of discipline when officers refuse to answer questions. I attach a document with a list of all of the officers who have refused to answer questions for your information.
I am requesting that officers be instructed to participate in this investigative process or risk discipline. I realize that former Chief Pennington issued an SOP regarding this issue and, in particular, Officer Harris stated that if the Chief required him to be interviewed, he would gladly return and answer all questions. I realize that you do not agree that this is the best practice, but until the City Council changes the law, it appears clear, that unless there is a criminal case pending, officers must submit to the interview. Well, you have heard my position before so I will spare you the repetition. Please let me know how you will proceed on this. I thank you for your consideration.
Atlanta Citizen Review Board