City to pay $1 million-plus to settle Atlanta Eagle dispute

Atlanta's long battle with the Atlanta Eagle club is finally over, and the city is $1 million poorer for it.

On Monday, the Atlanta City Council passed a resolution to settle a lawsuit in its dispute with the Atlanta Eagle, a gay bar in Midtown that was the location of a botched police raid in September 2009.

The council voted 14-0 to make the payment of $1,002,500 in the case of Calhoun v. Pennington, but it reserved deep discussion on the matter to executive session. Geoff Calhoun was a patron of the bar, and Richard Pennington was the city's police chief at the time of the raid.

After going into executive session to address Councilman Howard Shook’s question on how the final figure was determined, the council returned and voted.

As part of the settlement, the city will also oversee reforms within the Atlanta Police Department.

The settlement must now go back to a federal judge for final approval. At this point, the financial settlement will go into an escrow account controlled by the nonprofit legal group Lambda Legal.

On behalf of 19 patrons of the nightclub, attorney Dan Grossman filed the lawsuit in November 2009 alleging that the APD violated the federal and state constitutional rights of the people at the bar by illegally detaining them. It also said officers did not present a search warrant and used anti-gay slurs during the raid on Sept. 10, 2009.

Following a court-mandated gag order by federal Magistrate Judge Alan J. Baverman, neither Calhoun nor Grossman would comment on the ruling.

But immediately after the council’s vote, Calhoun walked out of the chambers wiping tears from his eyes. Grossman followed and hugged him.

In the widely reported raid, dozens of police officers swarmed into the Ponce de Leon nightclub after undercover vice officers reported that they had witnessed men having sex while other patrons watched.

The department also received complaints alleging drug sales on the premises.

During the raid, 62 patrons were forced to lie down on the bar’s floor. No search warrant was served, and no charges were ever filed against any of them. Police did arrest eight Eagle employees on permit violations.