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Fort Worth: Excuses unravel as raid is investigated
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Fort Worth: Excuses unravel as raid is investigated

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The administrator of the Texas Alcoholic Beverages Commission (TABC) admitted his agents committed 'clear violations of policy' in their June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge, a Gay bar in Fort Worth.

TABC Administrator Alan Steen told the Dallas Voice LGBT newspaper last Friday that two of his agents have been placed on administrative leave, and their direct supervisor has decided to retire.

'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. Like I said in my original press release, we have in the past and we will in the future act very swiftly in making sure that those issues are corrected.'

While Steen insisted that the July 28 raid "is not the typical TABC," the Austin American-Statesman newspaper reported that TABC agents had been accused of using excessive force in bar raids on at least three previous occasions - in February and July 2003, and again on New Year's Eve 2005.

The 2005 raid cost the state of Texas $135,000 in a settlement with the bar owner. In a related case, the owner's wife was awarded $35,000 when a federal jury found that Wood County Sheriff Dwayne Daugherty violated her rights by strip-searching her after the raid.

Since January 2008, TABC has conducted 180 reviews and investigations of its agents' actions, including inquiries initiated by TABC administrators as well as by complaints from the public.

TABC had previously admitted that Rainbow Lounge patron Chad Gibson had sustained serious brain injuries while in its agents' custody. Gibson was hospitalized for more than a week. He is reportedly recovering, but his long-term prognosis still remains unclear, according to his doctors.

TABC's admission was prompted by a July 3 media release from Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead, who was eager to absolve his own officers of blame for Gibson's injuries.

MEDIA EXPOSES OFFICER'S VIOLENT PAST
Both the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that one of the Fort Worth police officers involved in the raid had previously been charged with assault and suspended from duty on at least two occasions. However, according to the police report from the Rainbow Lounge incident, that officer - Jason Ricks - remained outside the bar guarding other suspects in one of the police paddy wagons.

Chief Halstead has refused any further comment on the raid, on the grounds that he might compromise his department's internal investigation. He had initially insisted his officers acted "with restraint" after being sexually harassed by bar patrons.

Fort Worth police have also been accused of excessive force in the case of Michael Jacobs Jr, a 24-year-old African American man who died after being tasered in the front yard of his parents' home in April. Jacobs was reportedly disabled by mental illness and became agitated when confronted by police, who then use a taser to subdue him.

Meanwhile the Fort Worth City Council passed a resolution on Tuesday calling for a federal Justice Department investigation of the Rainbow Lounge raid. Mayor Mike Moncrief had previously asked the US Attorney for north Texas to review police and TABC internal investigations of the incident.

The Fort Worth LGBT community reportedly remains divided on whether Queer LiberAction's disruption of last week's City Council meeting was an effective tactic. A poll conducted by the Dallas Voice showed 49% supported the QL action, while 51% criticized it. In addition to the City Council protest, QL has been organizing weekly protest rallies at the Tarrant County Court House. Halstead has appointed an openly Lesbian 17-year veteran police officer to act as a liaison with Fort Worth's LGBT community. Steen has indicated he lacks the budget to create such a position, but promised, "I may have to be creative, but we'll figure it out."

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