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.
Ft. Worth Task Force Recommends Protections for Transgender People
July 31st, 2009
The Fort Worth Human Relations Commission this week voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling for the city to amend its anti-discrimination policy to include protections for transgenders. The resolution now goes to the new City Manager’s Diversity Task Force, and then on to the City Council for final approval.
The City Manager’s Diversity Task force was established by the city in the wake of last month’s raid of the Rainbow Lounge by Ft. Worth police and agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. But according to Human Rights Commission member Lisa Thomas, this particular police recommendation from the Commission was was the result of more than a year’s worth of work. Several transgender residents spoke before the commission last March to talk about the discrimination they face at work and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, that newly formed Diversity Task Force, which met for the first time on July 23, discussed providing partner benefits to city employees. They are also taking up issues surrounding diversity training and LGBT economic development (i.e. resources for businesses and tourism).
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.
Yelping Over Discrimination In El Paso
July 12th, 2009
Chico’s Tacos is a venerated institution in El Paso, Texas. It was founded in 1953 and is now the kind of place that locals take out of town visitors to visit, and former El Paso residents make a special point of stopping in whenever they’re in town. But that hasn’t prevented Chico’s Tacos’ Yelp ratings from plunging to 1½ stars over their discriminatory practices. They’ve been pummelled with 118 one-star ratings so far since July 10. That’s out of 153 reviews, most which had previously been very positive. It’ll take a very long time to recover from that. Not sure that this will have much of an impact with locals; they either love it or hate it. But it’s bound to deter some out-of-towners from stopping in.
El Paso Police Chief Disavows Prior Statements, Pledges To Enforce Anti-Discrimination Ordinance
July 12th, 2009
El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen has issued a statement “to correct and clarify prior statements” concerning the eviction of five men from an El Paso restaurant after two of them kissed. The new statement calls prior statements an “incorrect recitation of the law” and recognizes the police department’s responsibility to enforce the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. That 2003 ordinance bans discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation.
This statement is in response to public outcry over actions by police officers who were called to Chico’s Tacos restaurant after a security guard threatened to remove five male customers because two of them kissed. The guard told the group to leave, saying that “faggot stuff” wasn’t allowed. The men called police over their pending removal, but instead of enforcing the city’s anti-discrimination law, a responding officer threatened the cite the kissing couple for violating a nonexistent law against “homosexual conduct” — one that presumably would go so far as to ban something as radically “faggotty” as a kiss. Later, an EPPD spokesperson compounded the problem over the non-existent law by saying that the five men at Chico’s Tacos could have been charged with criminal trespass instead.
Chief Allen’s statement now recognizes the police department’s responsibility to ensure “the opportunity of each person to obtain goods and services in all process of public accommodation without fear of discrimination.” The new statement “recognizes the negative impact that discrimination can have on a community”and requires that all police personnel “be courteous and respectful in their official dealings with the public.” Chief Allen requires EPPD personnel to “maintain a level of competence” in enforcing the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, and warns that failure to do so “will result in appropriate discipline.”
El Paso Restaurant Guards Release Statement Calling Kissing “Lewd Behavior”
July 11th, 2009
It looks like a kiss is still a very radical act. The security firm hired by Chico’s Tacos has responded to the uproar over the five men who were kicked out of the El Paso, Texas restaurant after two of them kissed. It turns out that kissing is now lewd behavior:
The security company’s general manager, Robert Gamboa, released a statement Friday that said the guard encountered eight men, not five. The statement said the men were disruptive and caused a disturbance when the guard approached them.
“While at their seats, two members of the group did proceed to engage in kissing and other lewd conduct,” the statement said. “It wasn’t until another member of the group started to dance around in the aisle like a ballerina, that our officer approached them and asked them to settle down or they would be asked to leave.”
Carlos Diaz de Leon, one of the five men kicked out is described at being appalled at the statement. He insisted that there were only five men in the group and that no one was dancing. “That security company is ridiculous,” he said. He led a protest by about a hundred people in front of the restaurant Friday.
El Paso has an anti-discrimination ordinance which prohibits, among other things, restaurants from refusing to serve anyone based on sexual orientation. But that didn’t stop private security guards hired by the restaurant from ordering the men to leave after two of them kissed, saying that “faggot stuff” wasn’t allowed. Both parties called police, but instead of enforcing El Paso’s anti-discrimination law, officers threatened to cite the men with violating a statute prohibiting “homosexual conduct,” saying that kissing was forbidden in public. An EPPD spokesman later compounded the problem by saying that the couple could have been charged with criminal trespass.
The ACLU is calling for an official inquiry into the reported anti-gay discrimination, as well as the response by the El Paso Police Department.
Texas Agents “Raid” Dallas Gay Bar
July 11th, 2009
I’m putting “raid” in quotes because reportedly that’s how a local television station described it, but so far there are no reports of arrests or injuries. Agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission visited the Dallas Eagle last night and shut it down sometime before midnight. Last night was the opening night at the Eagle’s new address, and TABC reportedly went because of a discrepancy between the new address and the one listed on the Eagle’s liquor license.
Tammye Nash at the Dallas Voice was careful to say that local NBC television station KXAS is calling the action a “raid.” (KXAS hasn’t posted the story on their web site yet.) When I lived in Dallas ten years ago, KXAS Channel 5 tended to be among the more sensationalistic of the local newscasts. They had this gimmick of calling themselves “The Texas News Channel,” with an absurd emphasis on Texas in all of their stories. I remember once they reported that a plane crashed somewhere but no Texans were on board. That was a long time ago; they may very well have changed since then. I see that they are no longer “The Texas News Channel,” but just NBC 5. As we learn more, we may find out that this is a real deal. But for now I’m taking the word “raid” with a massive grain of salt.
Update: Were TABC agents wearing “Ninja masks”? Tammye Nash is trying to sort fact from fiction and will have more later.
Update on “Chico’s Five”
July 10th, 2009
The story of the five gay men kicked out of Chico’s Tacos in El Paso because they were gay has picked up momentum.
National news outlets, civil-rights lawyers from El Paso to Austin, El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen and City Council representatives all chimed in on the Chico’s five.
Also additional information has been presented.
The phrase the security guards used was, “Si seguian con sus payasadas, los vamos a sacar de aqui, no permitimos que anden haciendo cosas aqui de jotos.” Jotos is a pejorative term perhaps best translated as “faggot”.
Mirroring the situation in Ft. Worth, the police tried to defend their discriminatory actions – only making the situation worse.
But El Paso Police Detective Carlos Carrillo defended the officers actions, telling the paper that every business has “the right to refuse service to whoever they don’t want there.”
Well as it turns out, no the restaurant cannot refuse service due to sexual orientation discrimination. (El Paso Times)
Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas, said a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case determined that places of public accommodation cannot refuse to serve someone based purely on discrimination and must establish a reasonable basis for turning someone away.
Gay men and women have an additional protection in El Paso, where in 2003 the City Council adopted an ordinance that prohibits restaurants and other businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation, she said.
Local civil rights groups are upset and some gay people are protesting.
Word of the altercation between the gay men and the security guard spread quickly through El Paso. A text-message and e-mail campaign on Thursday urged people in the gay community and others to participate in a peaceful protest at 5 p.m. today in front of the Chico’s on Montwood. Thursday night, about 35 people protested outside the Chico’s Tacos. Several held signs that read, “Equal rights,” and “I want to kiss in public” and “It was only a kiss.”
More Bigotry From Texas Police
July 8th, 2009
Last Sunday night, Carlos Diaz de Leon and some friends stopped to have a bit to eat at Chico’s Tacos. Two of the guys kissed each other, which seemed to annoy the rent-a-cops.
“We went, sat down to eat our food and security guards came and said that if they kept doing that, they were going to throw us all out of the restaurant.”
Carlos said he then asked them why? Their response, according to Carlos: “They said ‘we didn’t allow that gay stuff to go on here.’ “
Carlos mistakenly thought that he and his friends have the right in Texas to be treated the same as straight people. So he called the police. But he didn’t get the response he expected. Rather than come to the support of Carlos and his friends, they were threatened with citation.
“Told us it was against the law for two males and two females to kiss in public, that they could cite us for homosexual activity.”
While there is a homosexual conduct ordinance in the state’s penal code, “We don’t enforce that law, there’s been court decisions about Texas’ law on that. We don’t enforce it and what happened there wouldn’t have even have met the elements of the offense, even if it had been enforceable,” said El Paso Police Department spokesman Chris Mears.
The police department admits the situation was not handled properly by a rookie police officer, but deny it was discrimination.
“Did he make a comment that he shouldn’t have made? Yeah, he did…but that comment I don’t think was discriminatory in nature, I think it was poor understanding of the law,” Mears said.
No, Mr. Mears, it isn’t just “poor understanding of the law.” If was official police harassment of a citizen of El Paso based on that citizen’s sexual orientation. It was discrimination. It was intimidation. It was bigotry.
In 2003 the Supreme Court of the United States told a state that its sodomy laws contrary to the US Constitution. And what state was that? It was Texas. It is simply not credible that there is a police force in the State of Texas that was not fully aware of Lawrence v. Texas and what it means.
Prior to the Court’s decision, it wasn’t as though the state was much in the habit of enforcing the law. They didn’t put folks in jail. That wasn’t its purpose.
The intent of the sodomy laws in Texas were to create a culture of intimidation, to leave gay persons under threat of being criminalized, to allow harassment without recourse, and to make it very clear that the State of Texas “didn’t allow that gay stuff to go on here.”
It seems to me like things haven’t changed much.
In light of the recent police brutality in a gay bar in Ft. Worth, it’s time to ask some questions.
- Why don’t the police in Texas know that they don’t have enforceable sodomy laws?
- Why does Texas still have sodomy laws on the books after they have been told by the Supreme Court that such laws are discriminatory and unconstitutional?
- Why doesn’t El Paso’s Police Department consider the blatantly bigoted response of the officer to be discrimination?
- Why would officers with the Texas Alcohol Beverage Control and with the Ft. Worth Police Department think it was “restrained” to bust heads, break ribs and thumbs, and harass 20 people selected arbitrarily and not associated with any obvious intoxication just because they were patrons of a gay bar?
- And why is it still perfectly legal for Chico’s Tacos in El Paso, Texas, to refuse service to Carlos and his friends based solely on their sexual orientation?
I believe the answers to these questions are all the same.
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.
Zero Proof: Why Hasn’t FWPD Produced Evidence That Chad Gibson Was Drunk?
July 1st, 2009
Update: Since this post went live, we now have a statement from Kristy Morgan, Chad Gibson’s sister:
Gibson’s sisters say her brother’s alcohol level was .2. “.08 is the legal limit. He was at .2. You have to be at .4 to have true alcohol poisoning and he was not close to that,” Morgan said.
So now we know Gibson was drunk, at more than twice the legal limit for intoxication, but well under the level for alcohol poisoning. So the next question is this: If someone is drunk, why would it take several police officers to wrestle a 160 lb young man to the ground? And why would it be necessary to slam him against a wall?
Blogging occurs in real time. We see things and gather information and get it out there when we can. When new information arrives, we need to acknowledge it and put it out there, even if (and especially when) it contradicts what we first understood to be true. There are still more answers the FWPD and TABC need to face, but this is an important piece of the puzzle.
I concluded the piece below with “the only plausible answer” in the absence of a critical piece of information. Now that we have that critical piece, there are now obviously other answers. I retract the conclusions I draw below. It is plausible that the symptoms officers observed were due either to his injuries or his level of intoxication.
But for the sake of transparency I will leave this post in place. That’s another component of blogging that I think is important: leave your errors out there, but have them duly noted. And in this post, I also believe the chronology is accurate based on eyewitness accounts, and that chronology is important in establishing culpability for Gibson’s injuries.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverages Commission and the Ft. Worth Police Department have some serious explaining to do.
They have accused Chad Gibson of two offenses in the media without providing a shred of evidence to back up either accusation. The first alleged offense, that Chad either groped or made a “sexually explicit movement,” we’ve dealt with before. Dan Savage put it best when he paraphrased Ft. Worth Police Chief Jeffery Halstead as effectively saying “that faggot had it coming.”
But the second alleged offense, that Gibson was literally falling-down drunk and exhibiting signs of alcohol poisoning is being put forward by both organizations with no evidence to back up their claims.
Before we look at what flimsy evidence they do have, let’s go to the online Merck Manual and compare their descriptions of severe head injury with severe alcoholic intoxication. First the severe head injury:
Severe Head Injury: People may have some of the same symptoms as occur with minor head injury. Some, such as headache, may be more severe. Also, symptoms often start with a period of unconsciousness that begins at the time of impact. How long people remain unconscious varies. Some people awaken in seconds, while others do not awaken for hours or even days. On awakening, people often are drowsy, confused, restless, or agitated. They may also vomit, have seizures, or both. Balance and coordination may be impaired. Depending on which area of the brain is damaged, the ability to think, control emotions, move, feel, speak, see, hear, and remember may be impaired—sometimes permanently. [Boldface emphasis mine.]
Now here’s their symptoms of alcohol intoxication:
- 20 to 50 mg/dL: Tranquility, mild sedation, some decrease in fine motor coordination, and some impairment of driving ability
- 50 to 100 mg/dL: Impaired judgment and a further decrease in coordination
- 100 to 150 mg/dL: Unsteady gait, slurred speech, loss of behavioral inhibitions, and memory impairment
- 150 to 300 mg/dL: Delirium and lethargy (likely)
- 300 to 400 mg/dL: Often unconsciousness
- ≥ 400 mg/dL: Possibly fatal
Vomiting is common with moderate to severe intoxication. Because people may be very drowsy, vomited material may enter the lungs (be aspirated), sometimes leading to pneumonia and death. Drinking large amounts can also cause low blood pressure and low blood sugar levels. [Boldface emphasis mine.]
Notice the overlap between the two. So what evidence do police have that Chad was showing symptoms of alcohol poisoning rather than a severe head injury? Is it this?
He was released to paramedics because of his extreme intoxication as he was repeatedly vomiting, police reported. [Boldface emphasis mine.]
Or Ft. Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead’s statement on Monday Morning?
“In the police report, it was stated that he was handcuffed and he exhibited signs of over-intoxication, possible alcohol poisoning, and he fell face first,” Halstead said. “If there’s an eyewitness to the contrary, then that is exactly the person we want to come forward to the Police Department.” [Boldface emphasis mine.]
Or the TABC’s statement?
At the Rainbow Lounge, TABC agents placed one individual under arrest, Chad Gibson who was injured while in the agents’ custody. Mr. Gibson was released to paramedics for treatment of alcohol poisoning and a head injury and transported to a local hospital.
Is that all the evidence they have? All they saw was that he vomited and fell.
I’m calling bullshit on this. People aren’t charged with drunk driving because they were weaving. They may be pulled over for it, but they are arrested and charged when they fail a legitimate test indicating blood-alcohol levels are above the legal limit. And when we read a news report of a traffic accident involving drunk driving, there is always some mention of blood-alcohol levels to substantiate the charge.
So if they are so convinced that Chad Gibson was falling down drunk, where’s his blood-alcohol level? Did the police or TABC even run a test on Chad? If so, why haven’t either of them released the figure?
Let’s reconstruct what really happened. Here’s our first eyewitness:
Club Manager Randy Norman said Gibson didn’t seem drunk and was walking from the men’s room, holding a bottle of water, when an officer pushed him against a wall and then pushed him to the ground. Some patrons said they heard Gibson ask the officer a question, but that he didn’t fight back. At least three officers were involved in handcuffing him.
Kayla Lane, a visitor from California, has a slightly different memory of where he was handcuffed, but she also reports seeing someone pulled to the ground who wasn’t drunk:
After this, we saw the policemen go into the men’s restroom, pull out at least two guys from handcuffs from there, and pull one onto the ground before forcefully removing him. What were they doing in there? Raucously disposing of their waste?! There was no reason for ANY of those arrests, at all. These people were NOT drunk, or even overly happy or silly.
We do know however that he was forcefully slammed against a wall:
“The first question I heard was, ‘How much have you had to drink?’” said Shane Wells, a dancer at the club. Gibson “said, ‘I don’t have to answer that question’ and they grabbed him and ran him against that little wall.’”
And then, according to Chuck Potter, Chad was very brutally thrown to the ground:
Chuck reported that Chad Gibson (who ended up in the Intensive Care Unit at John Peter smith Hospital because of his treatment) was tapped on the shoulder and told he was under arrest. When he asked why he was slammed against the wall, his head was pulled back so far that Chuck was worried that his neck might break. When they released him for a second, Chad tried to catch his breath and staggered as he did so. The police then slammed him to the ground and 5 cops were on top of him. A friend who was at a higher vantage point in the bar saw one cop with his foot on Chad’s neck on the floor.
Justin McCarty was working security at the Rainbow Lounge that night and he also saw what happened:
McCarty said that he saw officers throw Chad Gibson to the floor, adding that, “There were people standing there watching it happen and crying. They were scared. It was just brutal.”
So did Alison Egert:
It was shortly after that conversation, Egert said, that she saw a patron in the bar “thrown against the wall” and then pushed to the floor. (That man was later identified as Chad Gibson.)
“Here you had this gay man who looked like he weighed about 100 pounds thrown to the floor with six cops on top of him,” she said. “That’s when I started noticing that they were only arresting men, and they seemed to be targeting the smaller men.”
Another witness, Chris Hightower, told WFAA-TV that he saw Chad hit his head against the concrete step into the men’s room:
They spun him around this way and laid him out on the ground, and that’s when he hit his head on this step and got the head injury.
That’s a very solid brick floor and sharp step for Chad to be thrown onto.
TABC now say that after they took him outside, he fell again and that’s when he received his head injury. They’re clinging to that story so they can claim he was showing signs of “alcohol poisoning” before he fell outside. And maybe he really did fall again outside; we don’t have any witnesses who said he didn’t. But if he did, it could very easily be because of his loss of balance due to the injury he sustained when his head hit the wall, the brick floor and/or the step.
TABC and FWPD are sticking to the “alcohol poisoning” excuse even though others in the bar didn’t even think he was tipsy. That’s a huge discrepancy. Someone on the verge of alcohol poisoning would look quite a bit more than “overly happy or silly,” don’t you think?
Nobody has come forward with any convincing evidence that he was actually drunk, but what we do have is convincing evidence that he sustained a severe head injury, because that’s what he’s been in intensive care for since Sunday.
The only way this all comes together is that Chad was injured when he was thrown to the ground outside the men’s room. Given the large number of witnesses who describe that scenario, that looks like the only plausible answer. Unless, of course, TABC or FWPD can produce results from a blood-alcohol test. And they better do that fast or retract their statements. Otherwise, nothing they say or do will have any credibility.