LGBT group renews push for independent investigation after department suspends 3 officers for a total of 5 days in response to Rainbow Lounge raid
FORT WORTH — The disciplinary actions handed down to three Fort Worth police officers for their part in the June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge were "absolutely inadequate," according to Jon Nelson, spokesman for the LGBT community group formed in the wake of the raid.
Two officers, including the sergeant in charge of the Fort Worth officers that night, were given one-day suspensions. A third officer was suspended for three days.
Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead announced the suspensions at a press conference Thursday morning, Nov. 5, on Jennings Street outside the Rainbow Lounge.
Halstead also announced that two lengthy internal investigations conducted by his department had concluded that none of the Fort Worth officers used excessive force during the raid.
Nelson, who also spoke at the press conference, said the FWPD report "falls far short" in terms of disciplinary actions, and reiterated his organization’s earlier call for an independent investigation into the incident."Five days suspension total is wholly inadequate for what happened that night at the Rainbow Lounge. … Five days — what message does that send to the LGBT community of Fort Worth? It’s like a kid being told to go to the principal’s office, and the principal just saying, ‘Don’t do that again,’" Nelson said.
Halstead said during the press conference that he has given the entire report on his department’s investigations and their findings to the Department of Justice for review.
Nelson also said he was unhappy to learn that the investigation made no effort to explain why the raid happened.
Noting that Fort Worth officers had met at 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 27, to plan their inspections later that evening on three bars, Rainbow Lounge and two primarily Hispanic nightclubs located a few blocks away on Rosedale. The other two bars, Nelson said, had been open for some time and both already had been cited several times for numerous violations, while the Rainbow Lounge had been open only nine days and had no previous violations.
"And yet, they made the decision to use the same force, the same number on a bar that had never even been inspected for any reason. Someone in charge should have said, right then, ‘No. We can’t do that. … No officer, whether he is a rookie or a seasoned veteran, would think that was appropriate. They all had an ethical obligation to say, ‘No, we can’t do that.’"
Halstead said he chose to "respectfully disagree" with Nelson on the question of the disciplinary actions and whether officers used excessive force. Many times, Halstead said, what citizens may perceive as excessive force "is different from what the policy defines as excessive force."
Gay Fort Worth City Councilmember Joel Burns said Thursday morning would not comment on the disciplinary actions handed down in connection with the Rainbow Lounge raid, saying only that such decisions are "the police chief’s prerogative."
"I think the chief has done a good job overall. He’s not even been here a year, and he’s had a tough job. There are other major investigations going on, too," Burns said.
He noted that the police department’s policies "have evolved" since the raid, and that the city overall has already put plans into action to improve its relationship with the LGBT community.
"We can’t change what happened on June 28. But what we can change, going forward, is how the city responds to its LGBT citizens," Burns said.
Both Halstead and Nelson said that disagreements over the investigation’s findings would not hamper ongoing efforts to improve relations between the police department and the LGBT community.
"I don’t think it sets back our other efforts at all. There are plans already in the works that will come to fruition."
The Rainbow Lounge happened on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, an event considered the birth of the modern gay rights movement. And Halstead started the press conference by comparing the Rainbow Lounge incident to what happened at Stonewall.
He said that initially he and his officers could not understand "why such a seemingly routine bar inspection" had sparked such outrage in the LGBT community and had drawn so much media attention, both locally and across the country. But after researching the Stonewall Riots and seeing the parallels between the two incidents, he began to understand.
"Stonewall was and, I have learned, still is a very significant event," Halstead said, acknowledging that the Rainbow Lounge raid had created "an atmosphere of fear" among the city’s LGBT residents.
He also acknowledged that some of his comments made right after the raid, suggesting that male patrons in the bar had groped the officers, "were viewed by many as insensitive, and I understand why. I want to extend another apology" for those comments."
In the days after the Rainbow Lounge incident, Halstead repeatedly objected to the characterization of the event as a raid. On Thursday, however, the chief said that after reading, several times, testimony from witnesses at the bar that night, "I understand. I agree with them. It gave them the appearance that this was a raid.
… On June 28, we did not provide the citizens at the Rainbow Lounge service with respect."
Halstead stressed that officers did not violate departmental policies in place at the time of the raid on how to conduct bar inspections or make arrests for public intoxication. But he noted that a new, detailed policy has since been implemented, effective Sept. 1.
If the new policies had been in place on June 28, he said, "the Rainbow Lounge raid would never have happened."
Halstead said four people had filed formal complaints in connection with the raid, alleging 38 violations by officers. Of the seven officers involved in the raid, five had been cleared of all charges, he said.
The remaining three were Sgt. Morris, a 32-year veteran, who was the supervising officers involved in the raid, Officer K. Gobert, who has been with the department less than three years, and Officer J. Back, a nine-year veteran.
Morris has been deemed responsible for the decision to go into Rainbow Lounge with such a large number of officers carrying flex cuffs and for going to the bar with a prisoner transport van. He was also held responsible for not making sure that officers under his command completed their reports on the raid before the end of their shifts, as policy dictates, Halstead said.
Morris was suspended for one day.
Gobert also received a one-day suspension because he made three arrests and did not complete the proper reports before the end of his shift that night.
Back was suspended for three days because, Halstead explained, he arrested a patron for public intoxication on the bar’s patio, placed him in flex cuffs and took him to the prisoner transport van. However, when the man’s companion "dropped the name" of another officer and suggested the arrested man was a city employee, the officer released him without the approval of a superior officer, Halstead said.
The chief said Back also failed to complete the required reports before the end of his shift.
Halstead said Fort Worth officers "used only their hands" during the course of the raid, that "there was no kicking or punching" by officers and that witnesses who testified during the investigation said they saw no use of excessive force.
Halstead also reiterated his earlier statements that Fort Worth officers did not injure Chad Gibson, the Rainbow Lounge patron hospitalized with a head injury after the raid, and was not in FWPD custody when his injury occurred.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 06, 2009.