Administrator Steen acknowledges his agents violated policies, says FW supervisor has stepped down
FORT WORTH — The administrator of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said this week that two TABC agents involved in a raid of the Rainbow Lounge on June 28 committed multiple "clear violations" of agency policy.
In an exclusive phone interview with Dallas Voice on Wednesday, July 15, TABC Administrator Alan Steen also said the supervisor directly responsible for the two agents — a sergeant in TABC’s Fort Worth district office — announced his retirement last week in the wake of the raid and amid an ongoing internal investigation. Steen didn’t identify the sergeant or the agents by name.
"I don’t think you have to dig very deep to figure out that TABC has violated some of their policies," Steen said. "We know that, and I apologize for that. Like I said in my original press release, we have in the past and we will in the future act very swiftly in making sure that those issues are corrected. It’s real clear that however it is that we were doing business that night is not the typical TABC. … I have good policy in place, I have good training in place, and I have good supervision in place to ensure that things like this don’t happen."
Steen said if the two agents, who are on desk duty pending the outcome of the investigation, sought approval from the supervisor before the Rainbow Lounge inspection, it shouldn’t have been granted. The agents were accompanied by six Fort Worth police officers.
Steen said he doesn’t think there was sufficient cause for the inspection, which apparently was based on the fact that one person had been arrested for public intoxication at the Rainbow Lounge on Thursday, June 25. Steen also indicated that the eight law enforcement officers and the paddy wagon that were present likely constituted an excessive show of force.
"You can read that policy and you can figure out really quickly, TABC shouldn’t have even been there," Steen said. "If our guys would have followed the damn policy, we wouldn’t even have been there. … We have these conversations all the time, and we don’t participate in those kinds of inspections when there’s not probable cause or reasonable suspicion or some public safety matter to be inspected."
Steen added that the agents also shouldn’t have been wearing "special events uniforms," which are prohibited during bar inspections. TABC agents typically conduct bar inspections in plain clothes.
The TABC agents and Fort Worth officers went into the Rainbow Lounge at 651 S. Jennings at about 1:30 a.m. that Sunday morning.
The raid, which has made national headlines in recent weeks, occurred on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, a police raid of a gay bar in New York City that’s credited with launching the modern-day gay rights movement.
The Rainbow Lounge raid left one man seriously injured and has prompted a huge outcry from the LGBT community in North Texas, with activists alleging that it was a case of anti-gay discrimination and harrasment by law enforcement.
TABC and the Fort Worth Police Department are conducting separate internal investigations, both of which are expected to be reviewed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Patrons who were in the Rainbow Lounge at the time, said the officers seemed to pick individuals at random, using zip ties to handcuff them as they were arrested for public intoxication. Witnesses said the officers from both agencies treated several people very roughly, and 26-year-old Chad Gibson was taken by ambulance to JPS Hospital, where he was treated in the intensive care unit for bleeding in his brain.
Steen said he expects TABC’s internal investigation of the raid to be completed in the next few weeks, and he plans to release the results during a press conference in Fort Worth. He said investigators have been working to interview witnesses but are having difficulty determining who saw the raid firsthand and who is basing their accounts on hearsay.
"We need to hear from those who saw firsthand what happened," he said. "There’s a lot of miles between us, there are a lot of people to be interviewed, but this is our highest priority and we’re moving very quickly. I will have the findings and I will have what we did wrong and what we plan to do about it by the end of the month."
Steen also indicated that he’s "very, very interested in and committed to" the idea of appointing a liaison between his agency and the LGBT community. He said TABC has a pool of numerous openly gay and lesbian employees that it could draw from for the position.
"I’m not going to sit out here and say, ‘Well I don’t have the money, so the answer is no,’" he said of appointing an LGBT liaison. "I may have to be creative, but we’ll figure it out."
Steen said the agency already conducts diversity training for employees that includes sexual orientation, but he added that he’d be open to having the curriculum reviewed by experts in the LGBT community to ensure that it’s adequate.
Steen said he chose to contact Dallas Voice and schedule Wednesday’s interview so he update the LGBT community on his agency’s response to the raid.
"I just think the people of Fort Worth deserve to know that we’re very interested in this and very diligently working to get to the bottom of it," he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 17, 2009.