Lambda Legal Sues Atlanta for Illegal Bar Raid

Find Your State

Know the laws in your state that protect LGBT people and people living with HIV.

Lambda Legal and co-counsel filed a lawsuit on November 24, 2009 in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Georgia against the city of Atlanta, its chief of police and 48 individual officers of the Atlanta Police Department (APD) on behalf of 19 individuals who were forcibly searched and detained, at the Atlanta Eagle gay bar last September.

"The illegal activity going on in the Atlanta Eagle that night was committed by the APD," says Greg Nevins, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office, which is based in Atlanta. "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 procedures."

Dan Grossman, co-counsel in the case, has been working with victims of the raid since that night. "I've listened to dozens of stories from patrons who were mistreated by police at the Atlanta Eagle that night," said Grossman. "The Atlanta Police Department is not above the law. They do not get to search and detain people who are not suspected of any crime."

On September 10, 2009 the Atlanta Police Department dispatched more than 20 officers to the Atlanta Eagle, including its "Red Dog Unit" dressed in SWAT team gear. Inside the bar the APD found no public sex, no drugs or illegal weapons. During the raid, patrons of the bar were forced to lie facedown on the floor 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.

"The Atlanta Eagle is one of my favorite bars. I usually go there to drink a beer, unwind and watch a football game after rehearsing with the Gay Men's Chorus," said Mark Danak, a Lambda Legal client named in the case. "But that Thursday night was a very serious experience I will never forget."

The Midtown Ponce Security Alliance, 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.

The lawsuit challenges the APD officers' actions, claiming violations of the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions and Georgia state law.

The case is Calhoun v. Pennington.

November 24, 2009