TABC: Agents weren’t guilty of excessive force

Posted on 05 Oct 2009 at 9:44pm
By JOHN WRIGHT | News Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Final report also concludes FW bar wasn’t targeted because it was gay


Carolyn Beck

AUSTIN — Agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission didn’t target the Rainbow Lounge because it was a gay bar and didn’t use excessive force against three patrons who were arrested during the raid, including one who was seriously injured, according to the findings of an internal affairs investigation released by the state agency Thursday, Nov. 5.

The agents, Christopher Aller and Jason Chapman, were fired in August along with their supervisor, Sgt. Terry Parsons, based on the findings of TABC’s first internal affairs investigation into the June 28 raid, which dealt with policy violations.

However, TABC’s second and final investigation clears Aller and Chapman of allegations that they targeted the bar and used excessive force
against patrons Chad Gibson, Jose Macias and George Armstrong. Gibson was hospitalized for a week following the raid with a head injury.

Dallas Voice was unable to review Thursday’s 74-page report before press time, because it wasn’t released until late in the day. Download a copy here.

"Although the evidence did not show that our agents targeted the bar or used excessive force, it does not take away from the fact that the agents violated several policies that night," TABC Administrator Alan Steen said Thursday in a statement. "I want to take another opportunity to say that this is not how we treat people, and we have been looking at this from every angle to find ways to make sure it does not happen again."

Jon Nelson, a spokesman for Fairness Fort Worth, the LGBT group formed in response to the raid, said Thursday he was "disappointed" to learn that the TABC agents had been cleared of the excessive force allegations.

Nelson said TABC’s finding, along with a similar one announced Thursday by the Fort Worth Police Department, likely will lead to renewed calls from the LGBT community for an independent investigation of the incident.

"There were 32 eyewitnesses to what happened at the Rainbow Lounge, and although the specific details may vary from patron to patron, it is clear from their statements that excessive force was used, that the [Fort Worth police] officers and the TABC agents were overly aggressive and they did in fact instill fear in those patrons," Nelson said.

Asked what he believes the LGBT community should do in response to the findings, Nelson added, "We can do what we called for right after the Rainbow Lounge raid, and that is an independent investigation, because the question remains, both with the TABC agents and the Fort Worth police officers, why were they there? It’s absolutely clear that they shouldn’t have been."

Nelson said it’s hard to say whether the agents and officers targeted the Rainbow Lounge because it’s a gay bar. But he said statements by Aller that were part of TABC’s investigation released in August indicate that it was one possible motive.

Aller said in the report that he suspected "lewdness" at the Rainbow Lounge based on the fact that he’d seen a dancer in a thong outside the bar two nights before the raid.

Nelson added that he feels TABC has done a more adequate job of responding to the incident than the Fort Worth Police Department. In addition to terminating three employees, TABC has appointed an LGBT liaison and begun LGBT diversity training for all of its 700 employees, and Steen has twice publicly apologized for the incident.

"It’s disappointing,  but you have to look at the overall picture," Nelson said of Thursday’s TABC report. "Those agents who perpetrated what happened at the Rainbow Lounge were fired, so the result is appropriate. I’m disappointed that they didn’t acknowledge the obvious, but overall the TABC still has taken positive steps to change the way they do business. … What action did the TABC take versus what action is the Fort Worth Police Department going to take? It’s night and day."

Carolyn Beck, TABC’s main spokeswoman and the agency’s newly appointed liaison to the LGBT community, said Thursday that based on the evidence in the report, the force used by the agents in arresting the three patrons, who all actively resisted, "was necessary and reasonable given the circumstances and the split second decision that they had to make."

Beck said the investigation didn’t determine whether Gibson was injured while being taken into custody by Aller and Chapman, or whether he was injured when he fell in the parking lot outside, handcuffed and vomiting.

But even if Gibson was injured during his arrest, Beck said, it wouldn’t necessarily mean the agents used excessive force.

Beck said Chapman but not Aller assisted with the arrests of Macias and Armstrong, who who were taken custody by Fort Worth police officers. Gibson, Macias and Armstrong were among six people arrested during the raid, but TABC agents weren’t involved in the other three.

Beck said she has no opinion about whether an independent investigation of the incident is needed, but she added, "If another agency would like to come in and review this incident … we’re happy to assist and provide whatever information we can."

Beck also said even though Aller, Chapman and Parsons have already been fired, Thursday’s report was not insignificant.

"I think having all that information out there, whether people agree with our conclusions or not, is very important," she said.

One of the most significant practical consequences of Thursday’s report is that it increases the likelihood that Aller, Chapman and Parsons can find other jobs in law enforcement.

Aller said Thursday that while he doesn’t agree with the agency’s decision to fire him, being cleared of the excessive force allegation is somewhat of a "consolation prize."

"I’m not being held hostage by the agency anymore, and I can try to continue on with my life now," he said. "I wouldn’t say ‘vindicating’ by any means, but it’s what I expected. It’s impossible to go get a new job somewhere else, anywhere, with an open complaint for use of force against me. I couldn’t even work at McDonald’s with another place basically accusing me of beating someone up."

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 06, 2009.

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