Atlanta police raid gay bar, arrest 8

The owners of an Atlanta gay bar say their establishment was unfairly targeted by police conducting a raid Thursday evening.

Several customers at Atlanta Eagle say they were harassed without prompting. They were forced to the ground and frisked, according to several witnesses.

"Our problem is with the way our customers were treated," said one of the Eagle's owners, Richard Ramey.

Eight employees of the bar were arrested around 11:30 p.m., charged with providing adult entertainment without a city permit.

“I’m thinking, this is Stonewall. It’s like I stepped into the wrong decade,” said Nick Koperski, 31, who had just gotten to the bar when the raid, involving more than a dozen police officers, some in plain clothes, commenced. Patrons at the Stonewall Inn staged a series of riots against New York police in 1969, saying they were routinely harassed because of their sexual orientation. The protests are credited with kick starting the modern  gay rights movement.

In a statement released early Friday evening, the APD said the city "received several complaints with descriptive information about alleged criminal conduct at the Atlanta Eagle Club located at 306 Ponce De Leon."

Eagle co-owner Robert Kelley was among those arrested Thursday, and six of the eight remained behind bars until late Friday afternoon, when two Atlanta City Council candidates, Miguel Gallegos and Shelitha Robertson, intervened, contacting a judge who then set bail.

Eagle bartender Chris Lopez said, “Before I knew it I was being handcuffed to [Robert Kelley]. They were going from patron to patron, having everyone turn out their pockets.”

Danni Lynn Harris, Atlanta Police's liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, said the volume of complaints she's received from Eagle customers suggest an investigation is warranted.

The raid, conducted by the vice squad, was a result of a tip sent to Mayor Shirley Franklin's office alleging “illicit sex” at The Eagle, Harris said. Ironically, Franklin's election and re-election campaigns were headquartered in space adjoining the leather bar.

Harris said no drugs were found, and none of those arrested face narcotics charges.

“It just doesn’t make any sense, with all the bad stuff that’s going on in the city,” Lopez said. “It felt like they had to justify [the raid].”

Lopez said he didn’t hear any anti-gay epithets from the officers, as has been alleged in several complaints made to Harris.

“What I’ve been hearing is a lot of people saying they were verbally abused, with anti-gay overtones,” the LGBT liaison said.

Koperski also said he also didn’t hear any homophobic insults, “but that doesn’t mean they didn’t say it.”

“I’ve never heard about something like this at a straight establishment,” he said. “I do believe it was prejudicial.”

A rally opposing the raid has been organized for 5 p.m. Sunday at the bar.

“I’m concerned it’s going to be one of those things that blow up before all the facts are known,” Harris said.

Ramey, who said The Eagle has never had trouble with police before, said he may pursue legal action following the raid.

“How can I just sit here and let them get away with doing this to my customers?” he said.

The APD statement acknowledged "allegations of improper behavior by police officers conducting the investigation" but added no official complaints have been filed with the department.

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