Police who raided an Atlanta gay leather bar saw patrons having sex on the premises on two occasions, Atlanta police chief Richard Pennington said yesterday.

Hundreds protested at the weekend over Thursday night’s raid at the Atlanta Eagle, accusing police of using excessive force and homophobic language.

The raid was organised after two anonymous callers said they had seen men having sex at the bar. It was also alleged drugs were being used in the bar, something the owners have strenuously denied. No illegal substances were found but eight employees were arrested for not having correct permits.

At a press conference, Pennington said undercover officers had seen men participating openly in sex acts in the club on two occasions.

He added he was taking seriously allegations of officer misconduct and promised to “take appropriate action” if officers are found to have acted improperly.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, he said no search warrant was issued and said officers had “frisked” patrons to check for drugs. However, patrons present during the raid maintain they were illegally searched.

Lawyer for the Atlanta Eagle, Alan Begner, said: “What happened to the customers was an assault. They were not free to go. There was no suspicion any of them had committed a crime. This is unbelievable.”

Witnesses said several police officers entered the bar at around 11pm and told the 62 people present to get on the floor. Some said they knelt down but were then pushed to lie face-down on the floor for more than an hour.

One patron told the Washington Blade that police then proceeded to search each person without their consent and took ID. Once patrons’ ID was verified, they were permitted to leave.

He said: “It wasn’t necessarily abuse, but I definitely think they used a heavy hand. . . We were treated as criminals from the get-go. I definitely felt harassed.”

Other witnesses reported hearing police make comments such as “This is a lot more fun than raiding niggers with crack” and “I hate gay people”.

Police have now launched an internal investigation over the allegations of misconduct from officers.

The Atlanta Eagle remains open.