In keeping with Atlanta Police Department tradition, the Citizen Review Board tonight recommended harsher discipline for rank and file officers involved in the September 2009 raid on the Atlanta Eagle bar than for commanding officers.
The CRB recommended three days suspension without pay for all low ranking officers involved in the raid. For command staff, the board recommended only a written reprimand and retraining.
Patrons at the bar claimed police violated their civil rights and last fall a federal court ordered the City of Atlanta to pay a settlement of more than $1 million to them and the owners of the bar.
For failure to supervise police officers under her command, Maj. Deborah Williams, then head of the special enforcement section in charge of the raid, will receive a written reprimand and retraining as will Sgt. John Brock, Lt. Tony Crawford, and Sgt. Willie Adams.
Lt. Scott Pautsch, who was asked to lend his Red Dog unit to the raid less than 24 hours before it was to take place and who was not present at the raid, was exonerated of failure to supervise.
Sgt. Kelly Collier, however, who was assigned to watch the bar area of the Eagle and told investigators that he couldn’t recall much of anything about the raid—not how many bartenders were behind the bar he was watching or how an adjacent residence had its door busted down, although he was standing at the door when it happened—was found to be untruthful and the board recommended that he be suspended without pay for 30 days, even though the department itself has a policy of termination for untruthfulness.
The CRB, a board appointed by the City Council through a few select community organizations, is, according to the ordinance that created it, entrusted with holding the police department accountable for lawful and ethical behavior. It polices the police, but it can’t actually execute its own recommendations which, in view of tonight’s recommendations, is probably for the best.
After a muddled farce of parliamentary order and approving the same measure twice, the CRB officially extolled the importance of not disciplining low-ranking officers more harshly than supervisors and then did exactly that: How does a written reprimand stack up to three days suspension without pay?
Executive Director Cristine Beaumud, in delivering her investigator’s report on the raid, explained that Maj. Williams “was not aware there were going to be multiple arrests” at the raid. Yet, there was no particular suspect named on a warrant. In fact, there was no warrant. So a raid of an establishment with dozens of customers would seem more likely than not to yield multiple arrests.
The defense of Williams, who oversaw the vice unit, narcotics unit and Red Dog, was that she didn’t know anything about the raid because she wasn’t informed by her lower-ranking officers. The tactical plan, as explained by Beaumud, was signed by a sergeant (Brock) although Williams admitted it was supposed to be signed by a lieutenant (Crawford).
And so, Williams, the major supposedly in charge of the unit leading the raid, was let off the hook with a recommendation for a written reprimand and retraining. Her defense was that she didn’t know what her officers were doing and was not present at the largest raid her division had planned all year.
In no hierarchy of sworn officers in the entire world would such a lack of leadership be tolerated. A commanding officer not knowing what her officers are doing when they requisition personnel and equipment would merit a discharge from any military branch—and soldiers plan such operations to deal with the enemy, police, on the other hand, are trusted to deal with American civilians. Williams’ primary defense, according to the CRB deliberations, was that she didn’t know and she wasn’t there.
Leadership is judged by what happens in one’s absence: If a commanding officer is a real leader, then it doesn’t matter whether she is present or not, she commands so much respect that she doesn’t have to be present to ensure that officers under her command adhere to her guidelines.
It is high time that the APD seek to match such standards of leadership.
Instead of understanding that it is an organization of lethally armed professionals trusted with guarding the justice of a civilized society, the APD continues to hire, train and promote as if it is the sanitation department: Anyone who can stand and breathe at the same time is good enough and any training that doesn’t get you killed is sufficient.
Look at the Facebook pages: Female sergeants who apparently don’t know how to cross their legs while wearing a dress and drug enforcement officers posing as if they’re pinups for Manhunt.com. Look at the transfers, done vindictively or arbitrarily without a thought for how an officer might contribute to the new assignment. Look at the promotions—in many instances a slop trough of unearned reward.
How can such people expect the citizens to respect them when they don’t respect themselves or their department?
What a great day it will be when the men and women who serve in the APD are not ashamed of the people who work alongside them and, more damningly, supervise them.
The CRB was supposed to be the antidote to this poisonous state of affairs. And yet tonight, dealing with a case in which all the nastiness has been publically revealed, it upheld a system that refuses to hold command staff accountable and punishes the rank and file for following orders.