Atlanta spends $1.2 million to investigate police raid
By Rhonda Cook
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
4:51 p.m. Monday, April 9, 2012
The city of Atlanta paid a law firm more than $1.2 million to investigate a 2009 police raid at a Midtown gay bar, almost as much as taxpayers spent to settle three lawsuits brought by patrons and employees who were in the Atlanta Eagle that night in 2009.
According to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the expenses were for the eight months former U.S. Attorney Joe Whitley and others at the firm GreenbergTraurig spent reviewing documents and recordings, interviewing officers and witnesses, and then writing a 343-page report that said officers lied, knowingly violated the constitutional rights of the patrons, employees and owners of the Atlanta Eagle bar, and then tried to cover up what they had done by deleting cell phone files.
Those findings were similar to those found by a city board that investigates complaints against the Atlanta Police Department.
Two weeks ago the City Council approved a negotiated settlement to resolve the third, and final, lawsuit filed by men who were in the Atlanta Eagle on Sept. 10, 2009, when police officers forced 62 patrons and employees to lie on the floor for an hour while they were searched. Eight people were charged with city ordinance violations, but those charges were dismissed or dropped once the cases went before a judge.
The three lawsuits have cost the city more than $1.5 million.
With the cost of the GreenbergTraurig investigation, the price tag for the raid is more than $2.7 million, which does not include the cost of retraining the entire Atlanta police force about constitutional restrictions on searches.
"We knew [the investigation's cost] was going to be extraordinary, but obviously the amount is shocking," said Mark Bullman, one of the lawyers who filed the three lawsuits.
Bullman said the legal costs were most likely higher because of the time it took to acquire documents and because officers lied, forcing GreenbergTraurig attorneys to spend more time getting accurate accounts of events that night.
"Trying to pry the information from the city and speaking to witnesses took an extraordinary amount of time," Bullman said.
According to the billing documents, at any given time there were as few as three and as many as 33 legal experts working on the investigation. Mayor Kasim Reed called for the independent investigation in December 2010 after the first of the three lawsuits was settled. Attempts to get comment from Reed's office Monday were unsuccessful.
The hourly rates charged for the investigation ranged from $60 to $460 for Whitley.
For example, one attorney spent more than five hours reading Atlanta Citizen Review Board letters, lawsuit documents and news clippings at a cost of $1,071. That same attorney spent 4.8 hours reviewing the APD's policies and billed the city $1,008.
There also was a charge of $7.50 for time a lower-level GreenbergTraurig employee spent reading and sending emails about scheduling.
The raid has often been used as an example of police training and how officers interact with the public. And solutions to those problems were included in a report from the Citizen Review Board little more than a year after the raid.
Tiffany Williams with the watchdog group Building Locally to Organize for Community Safety said the money for the outside investigation might have been saved if city officials had accepted the Citizen Review Board's findings.
"Many of their findings are identical to what Greenberg came up with," Williams said. "The way it was handled demonstrates we don't trust people we have doing police oversight, or they were looking for a different result."
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