Halstead also apologizes for comments after Rainbow Lounge incident that many in LGBT community found offensive
Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead told the Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday, Aug. 18, that at least some of the problems with the June 28 raid at the Rainbow Lounge LGBT nightclub arose out of "flawed policies within the police department."
Five people were arrested and charged with public intoxication during that raid. Two others were arrested on charges of resisting arrest, but those charges were later dropped.
The acknowledgment came during Halstead’s report to the council on results of two separate internal investigations into allegations arising out of the raid.
Halstead said the investigations are not yet complete, but that a new, carefully structured policy on bar inspections has been written and will go into effect on Sept. 1, along with training on how to enforce the policy.
That policy, he said, would ensure that "we never, ever have to come here again and explain how something like this happened."
Halstead also acknowledged that his department "led this effort [to inspect the Rainbow Lounge that night] and we asked for [the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s] assistance."
Halstead apologized again to Chad Gibson, the gay man hospitalized with a head injury following the raid, and he apologized for public comments he made the day after the raid that many in the LGBT community found offensive.
"I have made mistakes and comments I made [early on] offended people. I apologize for that. It was never, ever my intent to be offensive," Halstead said.
Halstead’s report to the council included a detailed description of what occurred at Rainbow Lounge that night, based on testimony from officers involved and witnesses in the bar at the time. But he noted that several witnesses have yet to come forward and "we have a lot of work to do."
The chief said the specific allegations being investigated are that police officers used excessive force in the arrests at the Rainbow Lounge, that officers acted in an unprofessional and rude manner, and that officers neglected their duty
If any of those allegations are proven, disciplinary action can range from training, to discipline, to suspension without pay to termination, depending on the severity of the misconduct.
Halstead’s report described the arrest of Chad Gibson. But, as did a recent report from TABC, the police chief’s report stopped short of saying exactly when Gibson incurred the head injury that resulted in bleeding in his brain, or assigning blame for that injury.
Halstead did suggest that some witnesses may have confused Gibson’s arrest with another arrest that occurred in the same hallway inside the bar just moments before, in which the person being arrested struggled with the officer and bounced off the walls of the hallway before being wrestled to the floor and placed in restraints.
(See the Aug. 21 issue of Dallas Voice online to read Halstead’s complete timeline of events on June 28.)
Halstead also acknowledged, apparently for the first time, that in addition to the seven people arrested at the Rainbow Lounge that night, several other patrons were taken into custody, placed in restraints and told they were under arrest for public intoxication, but then released without being arrested.
Tom Annable, a certified public accountant working for Rainbow Lounge who was in the nightclub when the raid occurred, said he personally witnessed at least 21 people who were handcuffed and removed from the bar, including the five who were charged with public intoxication and the two others charged with resisting arrest.
Annable said that he and four other people from the group Fairness Fort Worth met with Halstead for more than two hours on Monday, and Annable said that he was pleased with the changes Halstead made in his report as a result.
"His presentation here today was significantly different than the one he proposed making to us yesterday," Annable said. "He is still learning how to communicate with the LGBT community."
The most significant change, Annable added, is that Halstead "is aware now and has acknowledged" that several people other than the seven charged and listed in officers’ reports were taken into custody that night and then released.
"We told him, ‘That’s the big problem, is what you are not hearing is that others were arrested and handcuffed and then released.’ There are lies in those police reports, and that is a serious accusation.
"We were brutally honest with him, and he listened and made changes," Annable said of the Monday meeting with Halstead. "I have to say, I had my doubts about him [Halstead] at first. But I think he is very sincere [in wanting] an open and honest dialogue. I think he is struggling very hard to make this [investigation] work."
Annable said he agrees with the police chief that the completion of the department’s two internal investigations should not be dictated by political pressure. The city council had initially told Halstead to have the investigations complete by Sept.1.
"We want a complete, thorough and fair investigation, no matter how long it takes. A hard and fast deadline doesn’t help that," Annable said.
Halstead said that state law gives him 180 days — or until Dec. 28 — to complete the investigations, but that he hopes to have them finished by the end of September. A report detailing the findings will then be compiled and distributed to all those involved, giving them the opportunity to dispute findings, before being given to Halstead who will then deliver the report to the council.
While speaking to the council, Halstead thanked the members of Fairness Fort Worth, a group formed in the wake of the raid initially to help coordinate the gathering of witness testimony. The chief specifically mentioned attorney Jon Nelson for being "a voice of reason helping us move forward, " and the Rev. Carol West, pastor of Celebration Community Church, and her "calm voice but direct tone."
After the meeting, West said she feels confident that Halstead will "go forward and get to the bottom of this," and that he is committed to conducting a thorough and unbiased investigation.
West also said she has been "pleasantly surprised" by responses from Halstead and the City Council and their apparent commitment to improving relations between the city and its LGBT community.
"As traumatic as this whole situation has been, through this tragedy our community is making some truly positive steps forward, as is the city of Fort Worth," West said.
Halstead, too, said he believes the controversy will, in the long run, present positive results for all sides.
He noted that since the raid occurred, he has appointed Officer Sara Straten as the department’s interim liaison to the LGBT community, and that she has told him she "absolutely loves" her new position. Straten is, the chief said, "a bricklayer helping build a bridge to get us over this challenge."
He said the department is also working to improve cultural awareness among its officers and to improve the department’s diversity training. And he has committed personnel, including himself, to participating in the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 21, 2009.