Halstead promises thorough internal investigation, asks those who witnessed raid to contact department
Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead has promised a complete investigation into actions by officers with his department during the June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge.
He also said he intends to appoint a liaison to the LGBT community, as well as to other minority communities, and that he will implement sensitivity training that specifically addresses LGBT issues.
Speaking at a previously planned community forum in East Fort Worth on Tuesday night, Halstead said his department’s first priority had been determining exactly how Chad Gibson had incurred the head injury that led to his hospitalization.
But after reading aloud from a statement from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in which the TABC administrator said Gibson was in TABC custody when the injury occurred, Halstead said the Fort Worth PD’s internal investigation can now move on to other questions surrounding the actions of its officers during the raid, which occurred on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.
Carolyn Beck, spokeswoman for TABC, said Wednesday morning, July 1, that Halstead had been reading from a draft copy of a statement and that the official statement would be released to the press when it was complete.
The Tuesday night forum, which featured District 4 Councilman Danny Scarth and several members of the police department’s East Fort Worth command, was originally scheduled as an opportunity for East Fort Worth residents to discuss their concerns.
In an ironic twist, however, two of the first three area residents to speak had complaints about officers being rude and disrespectful to area residents.
One of the two identified himself as a retired police officer who spent 26 years with the department. He told Halstead that his sister was assaulted by officers who were apprehending her son and had chased him into her home. The retired officer also told the police chief that when his sister went to the police headquarters to file a complaint, she was again treated in a disrespectful and dismissive manner.
At the beginning of the meeting, which started at 7 p.m., Halstead asked that those who had come to discuss the incident at the Rainbow Lounge hold their questions until area residents were able to have their issues addressed, since the meeting — being broadcast on cable access — was initially intended as a forum for area residents.
Daniel Cates, a Fort Worth resident and organizer with Queer Liberaction, waited until shortly before 8 p.m. before broaching the topic of the Rainbow Lounge raid.
"When will there be answers?" Cates asked the chief. "Will there be an independent investigation" into allegations that Fort Worth officers used excessive force during the raid?
Halstead said no independent investigation was planned, but promised that the department’s internal investigation would be thorough and complete, and that any officer found to have acted inappropriately would be disciplined.
The chief also said that investigators want to talk to anyone who was in the bar at the time of the incident and saw what occurred.
"We are asking for anyone who was there to contact us. We are begging for information" from people who saw what happened, Halstead said. "You expect a detailed investigation. I demand a detailed investigation."
But Fort Worth resident Joshua Anderson suggested that officials were being unreasonable in expecting those who were in the bar to come forward.
"You can’t expect people who were mistreated by the police to come to the police to tell their story and expect to get fair treatment," Anderson said.
The chief also criticized the characterization of the incident as a "raid," saying that it was "a mere walk-in inspection," and that arrests were made only after intoxicated patrons made sexual advances toward the officers.
And he said that having the "police transport vehicles" ("We don’t call them paddy wagons anymore") outside the bar and officers carrying zip tie handcuffs on a routine walk-through was not unusual.
However, many of those present in the bar that night said they have seen other routine TABC inspections and police walk-throughs, and that they had never before seen officers arrive with a paddy wagon and armed with handfuls of zip ties.
Although initial reports said seven arrests were made that night at the Rainbow Lounge, Halstead said Tuesday night that only five people — one woman and four men — were charged with public intoxication, and that assault charges against two people who allegedly made inappropriate advances to officers had been dropped.
Although Halstead angered some in the room when he questioned whether "all the people who have come forward to the media" were actually inside the bar and witnessed arrests being made, and when he said that reports by officers involved in the raid were "the facts" of the case, by the end of the evening he seemed to be taking a more conciliatory tone.
He said that every officer on the Fort Worth police force had taken an oath to protect and to serve the community, and because of that oath, he went into the investigation believing their reports to be truthful. But, he added, if the investigation shows that the officers were not truthful in their reports, "they won’t work for me."
"I will get you a liaison," Halstead said, "but I want that person to be someone who volunteers for the position, because I want them to be someone who is doing it because they are passionate about it, not because they were just assigned to it. … This is not just lip service. We have to talk if we are going to get through this frustration and this anger."
He also asked for LGBT community leaders to come forward to talk to him about this incident and other issues, and to help him establish a comprehensive sensitivity training curriculum for the department.
"The only way we will move forward is by working together," Halstead said.
Scarth, noting that Fort Worth was one of the first cities in Texas to pass a non-discrimination ordinance including LGBT people, said that "discrimination against anyone for any reason won’t be tolerated" by city government.
"We are not going to try this in the media," he added. "We will find out what the truth is."
Following the meeting, Queer Liberaction organizer Elizabeth Pax of Dallas said she believes the Fort Worth police chief is sincere in his pledge to investigate the incident fairly and completely, and in his promise to appoint a liaison and implement sensitivity training.
"It will take some time, and we should give him some time," Pax said. "But we also have to follow through and make sure he keeps his promises."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 3, 2009.