Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Fires Three Over Rainbow Lounge Raid
August 28th, 2009
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission fired three agents who were involved in the June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge in Ft. Worth, Texas. That raid left bar patron Chad Gibson seriously injured with bleeding on the brain, following rough treatment by TABC and Ft. Worth police officers who slammed Gibson against the wall and onto a brick floor.
TABC announced that they fired Agent Christopher Aller, Agent Trainee Jason Chapman and Sgt. Terry Parsons this morning. Alan and Chapman accompanied Ft. Worth police officers on the night of the raid. Two others were disciplined. They were Capt. Robert “Charlie” Cloud, who oversaw the Dallas and Ft. Worth TABC offices, and Lt. Gene Anderson, who was Sgt. Parsons’ direct supervisor. Cloud received a written reprimand and Anderson was suspended without pay for three days and placed on six month’s probation.
TABC also made some administrative changes and instituted new training requirements beginning January 2010. A separate TABC investigation into the issue of the agents’ excessive use of force is still ongoing.
Last month, TABC administrator Alan Steen apologized for the agency’s role in the raid and blasted his agents for falling to “follow the damn policy.” Ft. Worth police have suspended joint operations with TABC and have announced policy changesto deal with bar checks in the future. FWPD’s internal investigation is continuing.
Ft. Worth Police Change “Failed” Policy In Response To Rainbow Lounge Raid
August 21st, 2009
Ft. Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead blamed a “policy failure” for the June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge. That raid, conducted in conjunction with agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, resulted in allegations of excessive force and landed one patron in the Intensive Care Unit of a local hospital with brain injuries.
Chief Halstead, in a brief to the city council earlier this week, said that an investigation into the raid is continuing, but he is already committed to making several policy changes without waiting for the investigation to finish:
“Under the new policy there will be three distinct differences between an actual bar check, bar inspection, and bar investigation,” he writes.
…Halstead told the council that bar checks will stay in place, but he described them as a low-key, communications point between officers and bar owners.
If bar checks find problems, he said, the department will progress to a bar inspection, which will be subject to two levels of supervisory review and documented problems.
The bar investigation will be the “strongest form” of policy, he said. Only then would other agencies be involved, and experts would be in charge, he told the council.
Halstead also said that joint operations between Ft. Worth police and TABC remain suspended.
Rainbow Lounge Investigation Reveals 19 State Policy Violations
August 6th, 2009
The Texas Alcoholic Beverages Commission has released the results of its internal affairs investigaton on the June 28 Rainbow Lounge raid in Ft. Worth, Texas. That report finds that two TABC agents and their supervisor committed a total of 19 policy violations during that raid. The Dallas Voice has the details:
Violations committed by the two agents include participating in a joint operation with Fort Worth police without approval from a supervisor; failing to submit a complaint card against the Rainbow Lounge; conducting bar inspections in unapproved attire; failing to follow bar inspection procedures; failing to report the use of force and injuries involving Chad Gibson, a Rainbow Lounge patron who sustained serious head injuries; and disrupting business during a bar inspection.
The violations committed by [Sgt. Terry] Parsons, who was not at the scene of the raid and has since reportedly retired form the agency, involve failing to take appropriate action against Aller and Chapman; failing to ensure Aller and Chapman filed the necessary reports; and failing to notify the sergeant’s supervisors of the raid.
The Dallas Voice has the full TABC press release.
TABC Chief Apologizes For Rainbow Lounge Raid, Says Agents Failed To “Follow The Damn Policy”
July 16th, 2009
Update: The Dallas Voice has posted audio of the interview. Please go and listen. It’s a very rare and wonderful example of a public official having the cojones to step up and take responsibility.
In an exclusive phone interview with Dallas Voice on Wednesday, July 15, TABC Administrator Alan Steen also said the supervisor directly responsible for the two agents — a sergeant in TABC’s Fort Worth district office — announced his retirement last week in the wake of the raid and amid an ongoing internal investigation. Steen didn’t identify the sergeant or the agents by name.
“I don’t think you have to dig very deep to figure out that TABC has violated some of their policies,” Steen said. “We know that, and I apologize for that. …”
Steen told The Dallas Voice that he doesn’t believe there was sufficient cause for the “inspection”. He also said that the eight officers and a paddy wagon likely constituted an excessive show of force. With all that, he said that TABC had no business conducting an inspection at the Rainbow Lounge that night. Steen added in characteristically Texan fashion, “If our guys would have followed the damn policy, we wouldn’t even have been there.”
And those “State Police” uniforms that we asked about, knowing that there is no such thing as a “State Police” agency in Texas? It turns out that those are “special events uniforms” which TABC policy prohibits during bar inspections. Steen said that agents are typically in plain clothes during inspections.
Steen also suggested that the TABC was interested in appointing a liason to the LGBT community, similar to the position recently announced by the Ft. Worth Police Department.
You can read all the details of the interview with the TABC Administrator at The Dallas Voice.
Ft. Worth May Call For Expanded U.S Investigation Into Rainbow Lounge Raid
July 16th, 2009
The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram is reporting on more fallout from Tuesday’s city council meeting. Several members of the audience at that meeting demanded an independent investigation into the June 28 Rainbow Lounge raid that left one patron critically injured and in intensive care for a week. Two council members, Joel Burns and Kathleen Hicks, said they would support an independent investigation, but didn’t all for a vote on the issue. Now it looks like that idea is starting to gain momentum:
On Wednesday, Burns said “movement was afoot” to ask the U.S. attorney’s office to expand its role from just a review to a more active investigation. Burns said that based on conversations he’d had with the mayor’s office, “they are looking at expanding the scope of the U.S. attorney’s involvement.”
While he believes the Police Department’s internal-affairs unit is capable of an investigation that yields full and complete answers, Burns said, “there are people who don’t know our Police Department who may not be so assured.”
He said he believes that an expanded role by the U.S. attorney’s office, complete with its subpoena power and ability to use the FBI if needed, “reassures everyone watching that the answers are full and complete and accurate.”
They mayor’s office is reportedly working with the U.S. attorney’s office to determine the scope of a possible investigation. There may be a resolution calling for an investigation by next week’s council meeting.
Ft. Worth Spokesman Clarifies Mayor’s Apology
July 16th, 2009
Listen, if you want an apology from your mayor, I am sorry for what happened in Fort Worth, ” Moncrief said, drawing some applause. “I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry.”
But city spokesman Bill Begley has clarified the mayor’s remarks, saying that he didn’t apologize for the raid, just for the injuries sustained by Chad Gibson when he was slammed against the wall and thrown to the floor:
“The mayor and council are always sorry if anyone is hurt ever in our city,” Begley said Wednesday. “The mayor has asked for a thorough investigation of what happened in the Rainbow Lounge to the point that he’s asked for the U.S. attorney to get involved …They want to make sure that all voices are heard … but the apology is that anyone is ever hurt in any incident.”
Rainbow Lounge Raid Proves The Dangers Of A Kiss
July 16th, 2009
We’ve covered several examples before describing the provocative temerity of a kiss. It looks like that monstrously dangerous act also played a role in the June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge by Ft Worth Police and agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Dallas’ WFAA-TV reports:
A police radio recording revealed that an officer called for help after they went inside the Rainbow Lounge.
“I need help in here,” he could be heard saying. “I’m by the restroom.”
That call came when officers said a customer blew a kiss at the officer, and then struggled with police as they tried to arrest him. The customer told News 8 his arm was injured.
Ever since Chad Gibson was injured and others arrested in a raid at the gay bar, one of the biggest questions for many was why did officers target the Rainbow Lounge in the first place?
According to police records, a cruiser video showed a man arrested for public intoxication two days before the controversial raid. In a police report, officers said they saw the man leave the lounge very intoxicated earlier in the evening and told him to get a ride.
Ft. Worth Mayor Apologizes For Rainbow Lounge Raid; LGBT Police Liaison Announced
July 15th, 2009
About two dozen LGBT citizens and allies spoke before the Ft. Worth city council last night about the June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge by Ft. Worth police and agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. They were there to ask city council members to apologize for what happen and ensure that such a raid will never happen again:
One woman said she had traveled some 1,500 miles from San Francisco to lend her support. A few speakers said they were not gay, but that they wanted the council to know that it was not just the gay community concerned about the actions of Fort Worth and TABC officers that night.
One woman described in detail what she saw during the inspection.
“That was the first time I was ever afraid of the police,” said Sarah Bryant, who had been at the bar with her boyfriend that night. “After that, I was overwhelmed with disappointment and I guess a little bit disturbed. … We just need your help to move on.”
The violent raid on the Rainbow Lounge took place on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. Chad Gibson was severely injured with a head trauma which resulted in him being sent to intensive care with bleeding in his brain. His full recovery may take as long as two years. FWPD and TABC are both conducting separate internal investigations into the raid, and the acting U.S. Attorney James Jack will independently review those investigations when they are completed. Meanwhile FWPD has suspended all cooperative activities with the TABC pending the outcome of these investigations,
One woman in the audience asked Ft. Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief why he hasn’t apologized for Gibson having to be hospitalized, “If you want an apology from your mayor, I am sorry for what happened in Ft. Worth. I am sorry,” Moncrief replied. According to the Associated Press, the crowd stood and applaused. The Star-Telegram merely said the apology drew “some applause.”
More than 250 people packed city council chambers for the meeting, with another 150 people gathered outside watching it on television monitors.
The meeting got off to a bad start when seven Dallas-based protesters from Queer LiberAction tried to disrupt the meeting. Those protesters were angry because the Rainbow Lounge discussion was placed last on the open discussion portion of the city council agenda — a normal spot when a particular topic is known to be of high interest and will likely generate a lot of discussion. Putting it last ensures that the other topics are discussed and gotten out of the way before the big one begins. But I guess there are always some people who are more interested in theater than action, demanding that their oppressed voices be heard when the topic is already right there on the agenda. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed:
While the outbursts from protesters brought a smattering of support, most at the meeting seemed bothered by the interruptions and broke out in applause when marshals escorted the men out and thanked Moncrief for working with the gay community.
DeeJay Johannessen approached the microphone and said he understood putting such speakers at the end of the meeting is a common practice.
“We are willing to wait. We’re going to be here. We look forward to talking to you. We looking forward to resolving this issue with you,” he said, prompting some to give him a standing ovation.
Real progress was made at the meeting. In addition to the Mayor’s apology, Ft. Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead announced the appointment of Officer Sara Straten as liaison to the city’s LGBT community. Officer Straten is a 17-year veteran of the police force. Meanwhile, the internal investigations continue, with the FWPD considering theirs a high-priority investigation, and have so far interviewed 33 eyewitnesses since the start of the investigation. They expect to complete the investigation in 30 days.
Rainbow Lounge Raid Inspires Police Improvements
July 14th, 2009
The raid on the Rainbow Lounge in Ft. Worth, Texas, has yeilded some positives. Inspired by the community outrage, Police Chief Halstead has gone from defending the action as having “restraint” to a finding solutions and preventing further abuse.
- Internal affairs investigators have conducted interviews with 33 attendees at the Rainbow Lounge and expected to complete the investigation in approximately 30 days.
- The Fort Worth police consider the investigation a priority, taking some internal affairs investigators off other cases to focus on the Rainbow Lounge incident, he said.
- Halstead expects to update the police department’s policy regarding bar raids, after taking input from the community.
- Soon after the incident, Halstead said he decided he needed a police officer to serve as a liaison to the city’s gay/lesbian/bisexual community, just as the department has people serving in a similar position for other minority communities. Officer Sara Straten, a neighborhood officer in north Fort Worth and 17-year veteran of the department, volunteered for the position.
Meanwhile our community must stay vigilant and follow up to be certain that those who abused their power are held accountable.
Chad Gibson Calls For Prosecutions
July 6th, 2009
Gibson was released Saturday after a spending week at John Peter Smith Hospital in Ft. Worth, suffering from bleeding in the brain. There is still a blood clot in his brain, behind his right eye. “I’m scared that something might happen,” Gibson said. “It might start bleeding.”
Gibson spoke to WFAA-TV yesterday, called the action by the city of Ft. Worth a cover-up. He’s particularly angry that the Ft. Worth police department used the blame-the-victim tactic in defending their actions:
Gibson said the city and officers have pointed the blame in the wrong direction.
“They have blamed it on me, that I was drunk [and] that I hit my head,” he said. “I groped the officer. I did this. I did that. You know what, no … Accept responsibility.”
Gibson said he is also frustrated at the city pointing the blame at the TABC.
“Even if the Fort Worth Police didn’t touch me, they watched it,” he said. “They watched other people do that to me.”
Gibson denies groping the police officer. Several eyewitnesses at the bar that night say they didn’t see anyone make any sexual movements toward police officers. Police also say that Gibson received his injuries because he was so drunk when they arrested him that he fell. Gibson told a Dallas CBS affiliate that his doctors don’t buy it:
“A lot of the doctors I’ve talked to say you can’t get this kind of blow to the head from just falling, if I had just fallen like they said I did.”
Gibson is as surprised as anyone about the exercize of police brutality which took place at the bar:
?I was at the bar buying drinks for my friends and I. The next thing I remember is waking up in the ICU,” Gibson said. “I’m just appalled that they took it to the level that they did.”
…”It shouldn’t have happened to me and it shouldn’t happen to anyone else.”
Meanwhile, local activists protested for the second Sunday in a row, this time at Ft. Worth’s Sundance Square. Another protest is scheduled for next Sunday in front of the county court house.
More Details Emerge From Rainbow Lounge Raid
July 5th, 2009
More reports of injuries are coming to light from last week’s raid on the Rainbow Lounge in Ft. Worth, Texas. That raid resulted in Chad Gibson being sent to intensive care for a severe head injury with bleeding in the brain. Doctors say he will probably continue to experience severe headaches for the next two years.
The New York Times reports that another patron suffered broken ribs, and a third had a broken thumb resulting from aggressive actions by Ft. Worth police and agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The Dallas Voice reports that another man who was taken in to custody experienced severe bruising and muscle strain in his shoulder and back. He was charged with public intoxication, even though he says he was not drunk and police did not perform any sobriety or blood-alcohol tests on him.
This practice of charging people without evidence goes against the very foundations of our country’s system of justice, but it is just one more example of how Texas policy on Public Intoxication is an open ticket for abuse. Ft. Worth Police Department has since announced that they are suspending operations with TABC.
The New York Times also provides more details about Gibson’s arrest:
Tom Anable, a 55-year-old accountant who said he was in the bar during the raid, said that for more than a half-hour the officers entered the bar repeatedly in groups of three and escorted people out. Then around 1:40 a.m., he said, the officers started to get rougher, throwing one young man down hard on a pool table.
Minutes later, one of the state agents approached Mr. Gibson, who was standing on steps to a lounge at the back of the bar with a bottle of water in his hands, and tapped him on the shoulder, Mr. Anable said. Mr. Gibson turned and said, “Why?”
Then the officer, who has not been identified, twisted Mr. Gibson’s right arm behind his back, grabbed his neck, swung him off the steps and slammed his head into the wall of a hallway leading to the restrooms, Mr. Anable said. The agent then forced Mr. Gibson to the floor, Mr. Anable said.
“Gibson didn’t touch the officer,” Mr. Anable said. “He didn’t grope him.”
Two police officers and a second state agent arrived and helped subdue Mr. Gibson, kneeling on his back. A lounge employee, Lindsey Thompson, 23, said she saw an officer slam Mr. Gibson’s head into the floor while he was prone with his hands cuffed behind him.
Ft. Worth police chief Jeffrey Halstead was adamant that Gibson suffered his head injury while in TABC custody. “They were not my employees,” he reiterated at a recent townhall style meeting. But witnesses are disputing that claim — as does this photo taken at the time of Gibson’s arrest:
TABC agents are in tan uniforms. The picture is grainy, but you can clearly make out a third person between the kneeling tan-uniformed agent and the standing TABC agent against the back wall. That third person is wearing the dark uniform of the Ft. Worth police department. The gloved hand of a fourth agent can be seen just to the right of the bar patron’s pants leg. It’s impossible to tell whether that hand belongs to a Ft. Worth police officer or a TABC agent, but the NYT account describes two TABC agents and two Ft. Worth police officers. This photo is consistent with that account.
The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reports that Ft. Worth residents are taking stock on how the raid reflects on their city. From my fifteen years of having lived in the D/FW metroplex, I think the article gives a good account of the differing cultures between Ft. Worth and neighboring Dallas. It’s worth noting that the Star-Telegram, long the home of the late Molly Ivins, was considered the “lib’ral” paper, with conservatives deriding it as the “Startlegram.” Ft. Worth was always the more laid-back, leave-‘em-alone kind of place, and Dallas was always regarded as more hard-nosed conservative. But the Rainbow Lounge raid has shaken that up.
There will be a rally tonight in Sundance Square in downtown Ft. Worth tonight at 7:00 p.m, as well as another rally in front of the Courthouse on July 12 at 7:00 p.m. Local activists also plan to attend the Ft. Worth City Council meeting on July 14.
Ft. Worth Mayor Asks For Federal Review Of Rainbow Lounge Raid
July 3rd, 2009
While the Ft. Worth Fort Police Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission continue their own internal investigations into Sunday morning’s raid on the Rainbow Lounge, Ft. Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief has asked acting U.S. Attorney James Jacks to independently review those investigations once they are completed.
Moncrief said, “I have confidence that Chief (Jeffrey) Halstead is leading a thorough and professional investigation,” but he wants to make sure that the department “has thoroughly and impartially carried out its obligation to all the citizens of Fort Worth.” He also encouraged the TABC to do the same. City spokesman Jason Lammers reiterated that the mayor’s action should not be taken as a sign of a lack of confidence on the police department’s ability to conduct fair investigation.
FWPD Suspends Operations With State Agents After Rainbow Lounge Raid
July 2nd, 2009
The Ft. Worth Police Department is now trying to disentangle themselves from the mess they created when FWPD officers joined agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on their Sunday morning raid of the Rainbow Lounge. Already, Ft. Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead has announced that Chad Gibson was injured with a severe head injury while in TABC custody. In fact, he was adamant that “They were not my employees,” even though a photo taken while Gibson was being handcuffed appears to show a Ft. Worth Police officer with three other officers holding Gibson down while he was being handcuffed. Now we learn that FWPD has sent out a press release announcing that it has suspended all operations with the TABC until the department gains a “better understanding” of the events surrounding the raid.
As I pointed out, the whole program of arresting individuals for Public Intoxication is a complete mess, as well as an open invitation for unchecked abuse with no accountability. It looks like FWPD is starting to see it the same way:
In an effort to establish ‘clearly defined roles and responsibilities’ of each organization, the chief will conduct meetings with TABC officials in the coming weeks. Halstead said the intent is to better serve the community in conducting inspections. FWPD is also taking steps to ensure that multiculturalism training is provided to all police employees, specifically toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
TABC Reassign Two Agents To Desk Duty
July 2nd, 2009
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has reassigned two agents involved with the raid on the Rainbow Lounge to desk duty pending an internal investigation. TABC also acknowledges that Chad Gibson’s head trauma occured while he was in their custody:
“I take seriously all allegations concerning inappropriate or illegal behavior by our employees. We have in the past, and we will in the future, take action against any employee found to have violated agency policy or the law,” TABC administrator Alan Steen said in a statement. “We are saddened that this incident occurred and extend our sincere hope that Mr. Gibson recovers quickly.”
Texas Public Intoxication Law Is An Open Invitation For Abuse
July 2nd, 2009
Two Texas state legislators yesterday called for an independent investigation into the Rainbow Lounge raid by Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and Ft. Worth police on Sunday morning. That raid resulted in Chad Gibson, 26, suffering a severe head injury while in TABC custody and landed him in Intensive Care. State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-FW) and state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-FW) met with TABC officials to discuss what happened.
Under Texas law, being intoxicated in public is a misdemeanor. Unlike in most states, it is against the law to be drunk, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing. You don’t have to be driving, fighting, or causing any other problems in order to be cited for Public Intoxication. And unlike drunk driving laws, Texas’ PI law doesn’t define what constitutes being drunk. This comes as a surprise to people who have been drinking but have a designated driver to take them home. Texas authorities have been taking full advantage of this ambiguous law, which is an open invitation for police abuse:
The TABC has been cracking down on public intoxication in bars and clubs because the law is on their side. According to the Texas penal code, public intoxication is when a person appears in a public place while intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another. The law also says that a place licensed or permitted under the alcoholic beverage code is a public place.
So, what does ‘endanger’ mean?
Dallas defense attorney Toby Shook said the term is vague, at best. “You can arrest people on probable cause, but it’s very hard to prove that they are a danger to themselves or others,” said Shook.
Shook also believes that ‘public intoxications’ are sometimes issued to liberally. “If officers want to quell a situation, or if they get angry with people, they can be very quick to arrest them on PI,” he said.
TABC has been in trouble before over the open-ended nature of its PI enforcement. Their PI inspections program has been suspended twice since 2005 over eggregious abuse.
In April 2006 TABC announced that it was suspending its Sales to Intoxicated Persons (or SIPs) enforcement program, which sent undercover agents into bars. Originally intended to catch bartenders and servers who sold one (or two or three) too many drinks to clearly intoxicated patrons, SIPs operations instead ended up busting mostly drinkers. Between late 2005 and the spring of 2006, TABC issued more than 2,000 citations for public intoxication.
SIPs, which targeted bars based on DWI suspects’ self-reported claims of where they’d had their last drink before heading down the highway, was unpopular with taverns for obvious reasons. But it wasn’t until an agent busted a woman drinking in an Irving hotel bar that the program blew up. Although TABC had touted SIPs as a public safety measure because it prevented DWIs, the woman had a room at the hotel that night — meaning she was headed nowhere.
The Irving sting made national news and TABC officials were hauled in front of legislators to explain the program. At the time Administrator Alan Steen emphasized his commitment to SIPs, however, today the program effectively has been shuttered permanently, said agency spokeswoman Carolyn Beck. While TABC occasionally conducts an isolated undercover investigation at a bar, she said, it is uncommon and targeted toward establishments with a clear record of proven infractions.
Clear record of proven infractions? Rainbow Lounge had only been open for less than a week. So far, neither Ft. Worth police nor TABC will answer questions about why the Rainbow Lounge was singled out for a raid on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion.
The whole process of conducting these so-called “inspections” is a complete mess. Earlier this month, a TABC agent was accused of sexual misconduct with a teenager who was assisting a sting operation by posing as an underage drinker. That supposedly resulted in a second suspension of the SIP program, despite the Rainbow Lounge’s raid just a few weeks later.
Not only is the law itself ill-defined, but the run rules for who has responsibility for what seems to be very unclear. For example, TABC has now acknowledged that Chad Gibson was injured while in their custody. Ft. Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead added to that, saying “They were not my employees.”
And yet a cell-phone photo appears to show a Ft. Worth police officer with at least two TABC agents while they had Gibson pinned to the ground outside the men’s room. Look closely. On the left/center of the photo, you can see two officers in tan uniforms. Those are TABC agents. Between those two is a third officer in a dark uniform, which appears to be a Ft. Worth police officer. The gloved hand of a fourth officer can be seen just to the right of the bar patron watching them, but it’s unclear whether that hand belongs to a TABC agent or a police officer.
Everything about this suggests a program out of control, with no accountability, no definitions of responsibilities, no criteria for choosing targets, and no clear determination of what constitutes a violation of the Public Intoxication law. The law itself leaves to much to the discretion of an officer’s mood, temperment and biases. This entire program is an open invitation to unchecked abuse by authorities for whatever reason and needs to be put to an immediate halt.