Decisions delayed: Fort Worth PD investigation

Posted on 15 Oct 2009 at 6:05pm
By Tammye Nash | Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Fort Worth PD investigation: Activists frustrated by delay as release of report on FWPD investigation rescheduled for Nov. 5

FORT WORTH — Although they were frustrated to learn that the Fort Worth Police Department’s report on its investigation into the June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge gay bar would not be released this week as previously planned, LGBT activists in Cowtown said they are pleased overall with the response from city officials.

Lt. Paul Henderson, chief of staff for Chief Jeffrey Halstead, said Wednesday, Oct. 14 that Halstead will hold a press conference on Nov. 5 to release the report to the public. Henderson noted that the date is still tentative, however.

Henderson said that while the report, compiled from the findings of two separate internal investigations, is complete, the officers involved in the raid, their supervisors and others up the chain of command still have to read the report and make any comments before it can be released.

“There is such a huge volume of information in this report. It includes four binders that are 12 to 14 inches thick, and that’s a lot of reading that the officers and their supervisors have to do,” Henderson said. “It just takes a lot of time to get through it all.”

Henderson also said that a comment Halstead made that a lack of resources had delayed the report was “misconstrued.” Henderson said the department has allocated all the necessary resources to conduct and complete the investigation, but that the department cannot pay the officers or their supervisors overtime to read through the report.

“Since we are still well within the 180-day timeframe mandated by law for us to complete the report, it would be fiscally irresponsible of us, especially considering this economic climate, to pay overtime for that purpose. Of course, if this were Dec. 21, and the deadline is Dec. 25, we’d definitely be looking at paying that overtime,” Henderson said.

He also said that once the report and recommendations reach Halstead’s desk, “He will be expending all his time reviewing it. He won’t be working 8-to-5. He will start reading it, and he won’t stop until he is done.”

Fort Worth attorney Jon Nelson, the main spokesman for Fairness Fort Worth, an organization formed in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge incident, said Thursday he is less concerned that the report has been delayed than with the lack of communication about the delay.

“I know there is a considerable amount of frustration that the report has been delayed, and I think that frustration is justified,” Nelson said in a telephone interview. “The chief told the council the report would be ready this week, and he’s not going to meet that date. The problem isn’t that he won’t meet that date, but that the department couldn’t have realized this weeks ago and alerted people to that fact earlier.”

Nelson said by not letting people know about the delay sooner, the department has left the impression with some people that the Fort Worth Police Department’s report is being deliberately delayed until the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s report on the raid has been released. TABC announced this week that it’s second report on the incident, dealing with agents’ use of force against a patron injured in the raid, has also been delayed.

“Some people think its gamesmanship,” Nelson said. “They think if the TABC report comes out before the police department’s report, then the police report could be modified based on information in the TABC report, and vice versa.

“I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s the impression some people have. And a lot of the consternation over the delay all comes down to the police chief waiting until the 11th hour to announce the delay,” Nelson said.

Nelson and Thomas Anable, another Fairness Fort Worth founding member, both said that many people also believe that politics are playing a role in when the reports will be released.

“Here’s the reality, and somebody might as well just say this right now, I believe the police officers association is putting a lot of pressure on people to make sure no one is reprimanded and no one is fired over this,” Nelson said. “And in many politicians’ minds, the police officers association has enough clout to elect or defeat a candidate. That’s a real perception in Fort Worth.”

Anable said that others believe the delay occurred as a result of political pressure on Halstead to delay the report until after a city election on the creation of crime prevention districts is held on Nov. 3.

“I don’t know if that’s true, but I know that’s what some people believe,” said Anable, a CPA who was in the Rainbow Lounge, helping the club with accounting procedures when the raid occurred.

“Obviously I am displeased that we have another delay. But I would rather have a thorough, complete and competent report instead of rushing it through and missing something,” Anable added.

Still, both men said they believe the Fort Worth City Council and Chief Halstead are sincere in their efforts to not only resolve the Rainbow Lounge situation, but to find other ways to improve relations between Fort Worth’s government and its LGBT citizens.

Nelson is a member of the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force, formed by the council after the Rainbow Lounge raid to find ways to improve relations between the city and the LGBT community. He said this week the task force is in the final stages of approving a list of recommendations that could include implementing partner benefits for city employees, adding transgender protections to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, implementing diversity training for councilmembers and appointees to city boards and commissions as well as all city employees, and requiring all vendors doing business with the city to implement nondiscrimination policies protecting LGBT people.

Nelson said he expects the task force to approve a final draft of the list of recommendations at its Oct. 22 meeting, and for those recommendations to be presented to the City Council sometime in November.

He added that a plan to offer partner benefits to city employees is “already in the works” and could possibly be presented to the council as early as

December.
Anable pointed out that Halstead and his wife, along with several of the police department’s “top brass” and newly-appointed LGBT liaison Officer Sara Straten attended Fort Worth’s annual Gay Pride Picnic last weekend.

“He [Halstead] is really trying. I think he is really sincere,” Anable said of the police chief’s efforts to improve relations with the LGBT community since the raid. Henderson pointed to a number of changes Halstead has already instituted, including appointing Straten as interim LGBT liaison.

“She will be, already has been, an invaluable asset to both the police department and the LGBT community,” Henderson said. “She gives us a much greater and deeper understanding of the level of commitment the police department has to make to bridge that gap.”

Henderson said that Halstead is working now to make the interim liaison position a permanent, full-time position. “The only thing limiting us right now is getting through the budget and finding funding for the next fiscal year to make that position full time. That is already in the works, though,” he said.

Henderson said Fort Worth Police would also be working with Fairness Fort Worth and Resource Center of Dallas to improve its multicultural training for police recruits, and that the chief hopes to establish an LGBT Citizens Police Academy, similar to the Citizens Police Academy already in place.

The Citizens Police Academy allows community members to attend sessions with representatives of different units in the police department to learn about how those units operate.

“Admittedly, we have fallen short,” Henderson said. “It’s not that we’re not inclusive of the LGBT community. We have always considered the LGBT citizens as part of the community overall. But having [Straten] there as the liaison now will help us bridge the gap and address our shortcomings in that department.

“The Rainbow Lounge incident was a very, very unfortunate incident. There is a lot of negativity surrounding it. But out of that negativity, we have some far-reaching positive accomplishments that are just coming to fruition. The communication lines are now open, and we’re using that,” Henderson added.

Anable and Nelson agreed, both saying that they are pleased not just with the progress that has been made, but with how quickly the changes have happened.

“The big question for me is going to be, how much of what the Diversity Task Force is recommending will actually be implemented. That will be the proof in the pudding. But there has already been some real concrete progress, not just in words, but in actions,” Nelson said.

Anable added, “The city has moved much faster than I ever anticipated. Would we have made this progress without Rainbow Lounge? I don’t think so. But it did, and now we want the progress to continue. We want to build an ongoing structure that won’t let things fall off track again.

“Fort Worth was 20 years behind Dallas before,” Anable said, “but I think we just caught up. Big time.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 16, 2009.

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