APD undercover officers drank shots just before Eagle Bar raid

Two undercover Atlanta police officers assigned to an investigation at the Atlanta Eagle downed shot after shot of the potent liqueur Jagermeister even as their colleagues were preparing to raid the Midtown gay bar, according to information obtained in a lawsuit against the city.

Three undercover officers were already in the Atlanta Eagle bar before the Sept. 10, 2009,  raid started. At least two of them were drinking heavily, according to the bartender and the receipts they filed for the costs of their drinks.

According to information gathered in the now-settled lawsuit, officer Bennie Bridges spent $60 of APD funds on May 21, 2009, and another $50 the night of the raid on Sept. 10, 2009. A second officer working undercover that evening, Jared Watkins, claimed $60 for drinks the night of the raid. The third officer inside the Eagle bar before the raid claimed he spent $10.

According to records for those who were in the bar undercover on May 21, 2009, five officers, one of them a woman, each claimed they spent $5. Three others reported spending $10, $20 and $29. That was the night Bridges, the lead investigator, spent $60, according to information gathered to settle a federal lawsuit for $1.025 million and legal costs.

It is not clear if the officers were asking to be reimbursed or if they were documenting money that was given to them in advance. A “witness” and a supervisor, in addition to the officer, signed off on the paperwork accounting for the expenditure.

APD spokesman Carlos Campos said in an e-mail that APD “employees are prohibited from consuming intoxicants or illegal substances while on duty. However, exceptions are made for employees working undercover on specific law enforcement operations. Those exceptions must be approved ahead of time in writing by an employee’s supervisor, and must be limited to prevent the impairment of the employee.”

Campos declined to comment on Bridges’ or Watkins’ spending or any specifics about the case because “internal investigations into officers’ actions are ongoing.”

It was never determined if the officers were impaired.

Bridges, 41, did not respond to a telephone message left at his home Tuesday. He has been on paid leave since he was arrested earlier this month in Cobb County on charges of speeding, DUI and possession of marijuana.

Watkins also could not be reached Tuesday.

Cristina Beamud, executive director of the Atlanta Citizen Review Board, which fields complaints against officers, said sometimes it is  necessary "on some occasions, to drink in small quantities. It's never a good idea for officers to consume alcohol, especially if they're planning to take enforcement action."

Even though the federal lawsuit has been settled, the repercussions of the raid that night continue to dog the Atlanta Police Department. The city and APD struggled to rebuild their weakened relationships with the gay community. Mayor Kasim Reed tried to mend hurt feelings by apologizing for the raid.

Robby Kelly, a co-owner who was tending bar on Sept. 10, 2009, said he remembered Bridges from that night because Bridges stood taller than many in the bar and because he and the other officer were loud as they drank $6 shots and bantered with another bartender.

Kelly said the bartender also bought the two undercover officers a couple of Jagermeister shots in addition to the ones Bridges and Watkins bought for themselves.

Once the raid started, Kelly said, he lost track of the two as officers from APD’s vice unit and the now-disbanded Red Dog team swarmed the bar.

Patrons and employees were ordered to the floor and handcuffed. Some officers used profanity and anti-gay slurs as they conducted the searches, witnesses said.

APD initially said the officers went to the bar based on reports that men were engaging in sex acts while others watched. Eight people were charged with violating city ordinances involving licensing. But a municipal court judge later dismissed the cases against three of them and then prosecutors dropped charges against the remaining five.

Attorney Dan Grossman, who filed the lawsuit in federal court, questioned why some of the undercover officers drank so much. They could have had a soft drink or water with lime if they wanted to make it look like they were drinking alcohol, he said.

“That’s a lot of booze,” Grossman said. “That goes beyond fitting in. Now it’s having a good time. ... If they could have made some argument that it’s essential to an undercover investigation, they should have left the location once the raid started and left it to those who were sober.”

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