Decisions delayed: TABC investigation

Posted on 15 Jan 2009 at 6:05pm
By John Wright | News Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

TABC chief upholds terminations of employees, again apologizes to the LGBT community

AUSTIN —Despite his recent decision to uphold the firings of two employees, as well as the impending release of his agency’s final report on the Rainbow Lounge raid, the administrator for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said this week that for him, the incident "will never, ever be over with."

TABC Administrator Alan Steen said Tuesday, Oct. 13 that he’s denied appeals filed by Sgt. Terry Parsons and Agent Christopher Aller, who were terminated in August for multiple policy violations they were found to have committed in connection with the June 28 raid on the Fort Worth gay bar.

A third TABC employee who was involved in the raid, Agent Trainee Jason Chapman, wasn’t eligible to appeal his termination because he’d been with the agency for less than 90 days.

Also this week, TABC spokeswoman Carolyn Beck said the agency’s second investigation into the Rainbow Lounge raid — which deals with the agents’ use of force against injured patron Chad Gibson —is now slated to be released in mid-November. The use-of-force investigation previously was expected to be released later this month, but Beck said the investigator requested more time "to review recently released documents and to consult with the agency’s force instructor."

In an exclusive interview, Steen told Dallas Voice that although the matter may appear to be drawing to a close, at least from TABC’s standpoint, the raid will have lasting consequences for himself and the agency. Steen also took the opportunity to again apologize to the LGBT community for the incident.

"In my mind it will never be over with," Steen said. "It will never, ever be over with. Decisions were made on that night that will affect this agency for the rest of its existence. It’s embarrassing, and I can’t apologize enough. It’s wrong to the gay and lesbian people of Fort Worth, it’s wrong for the Metroplex and it’s wrong for Texas. There’s nothing about that [the Rainbow Lounge raid] that we can find that was right. In my mind it will never, ever be over, and there’s nothing that we can do."

Steen said he chose to uphold the terminations of Parsons and Aller because in their appeals, they failed to make a compelling case as to why he should overturn the decision of TABC Chief of Field Operations Joel Moreno, who terminated them on Aug. 28. TABC’s first investigation of the Rainbow Lounge raid, released Aug. 6, found that Parsons, Aller and Chapman committed a combined total of 19 violations of TABC policies in connection with the raid.

Aller and Chapman, who conducted the raid along with several Fort Worth police officers, failed to get approval for the operation from Parsons; wore improper attire and violated other procedures during the raid; and failed to later report their use of force and the injuries sustained by Gibson. Parsons, who wasn’t present for the raid, failed to ensure that the agents filed the necessary reports, according to the investigation.

Aller and Parsons couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Steen estimated that he upholds disciplinary action in about half of cases and overturns or modifies it in the other half. He said that because employees represent a "huge investment" to TABC, anytime they’ve been terminated, he tries to make sure the agency has done everything it can to keep them.

Aller and Parsons received letters denying their appeals dated Sept. 28 and Oct. 6, respectively. Parsons will be compensated for 240.5 hours of personal leave time he’s taken since the raid, because Steen said he should have been placed on paid administrative leave. Aller and Chapman were placed on desk duty shortly after the incident.

Steen said, "The investigation was thorough and complete. The findings of fact were thorough and complete and pretty hard to argue with. I couldn’t find any reason to believe that we should continue in any other direction.

"This is about attitudes," Steen added. "This is about how you treat people across the board, and that’s the part about it that I can’t get over. This isn’t how you treat people. This isn’t how you supervise people. … The message is real clear across this entire state and every single employee that we have, that that right there is not how we treat people."

Jon Nelson, a spokesman for Fairness Fort Worth, the LGBT group formed in response to the Rainbow Lounge raid, said this week he agrees with Steen’s decision to uphold the terminations of Aller and Parsons. Nelson also praised the agency for its handling of the investigations thus far.

"As a human being, it’s kind of mixed emotions," Nelson said. "I’m not gleeful that employees of the TABC were fired, and yet, I think it was exactly the right thing to do and what had to happen given the facts of what happened at the raid. I think that since the beginning of this incident, the TABC has been very strong and very forthright in assessing what happened and taking swift and direct action."

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

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