Calhoun v. Pennington

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Status: Closed
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia
Issues: Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct

Case brought against the city of Atlanta, the chief of police and individual officers for illegally searching, detaining and harassing staff and patrons of a gay bar.

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On September 10, 2009, the Atlanta Police Department (APD) dispatched dozens of officers to a gay bar called the Atlanta Eagle, including its aggressive drug-focused "Red Dog Unit" dressed in SWAT team gear, but inside the bar the APD found no drugs or illegal weapons. During the raid, patrons of the bar were detained, searched and forced to lie facedown on the floor for extended periods while background checks were run on everyone. Eagle bar patrons heard antigay slurs and were forced to lie in spilled beer and broken glass. One patron was forced to lie on the floor even though he had injured his back in the Iraq war. Not a single patron was charged with any crime.

A neighborhood community watch group often critical of gay nightlife venues told the press it had never received reports of crime at the Eagle nor had its members observed crime or disorder coming from the bar.

Lambda Legal and co-counsel filed a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta, the chief of police and dozens of individual officers on behalf of 19 of those who were forcibly searched and unlawfully detained. The lawsuit challenges the APD officers' actions, claiming violations of the U.S. and Georgia constitutions and Georgia law.


  • November 2009 Lambda Legal and co-counsel file lawsuit against the city of Atlanta, the chief of police and officers of the Atlanta Police Department (APD) on behalf of 19 Atlanta Eagle patrons.
  • December 2010 Parties reach a settlement that will require the Atlanta Police Department to rewrite unconstitutional policies regarding arrest, search and seizure, and make other changes to protect the public from police misconduct. The settlement also provides for a payment of $1,025,000 by the city of Atlanta.