TABC administrator, Fort Worth police chief both pledge ‘thorough investigations’ into Rainbow Lounge incident
Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Administrator Alan Steen on Wednesday, July 1, issued a statement acknowledging that the 26-year-old gay man hospitalized with a head injury following a raid Sunday, June 28 on a Fort Worth gay bar was injured while in the custody of TABC agents.
Two TABC agents involved in the incident have been reassigned to desk jobs while an investigation into the incident is conducted, according to reports posted online by NBC Channel 5 in Dallas.
According to the statement, Chad Gibson was one of 15 people arrested Saturday night and Sunday morning during "joint inspections" by TABC agents and officers with the Fort Worth Police Department at three bars. The inspections were conducted to "ensure compliance with state alcoholic beverage laws and local ordinances."
Gibson was arrested inside the Rainbow Lounge at 651 S. Jennings St., along with three other men and one woman, according to Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead. The other 10 individuals were arrested at the Rosedale Saloon, the adjacent Cowboy Palace and an unnamed "unlicensed location," the TABC statement said.
"At the Rainbow Lounge, TABC agents placed one individual under arrest, Chad Gibson, who was injured while in the agents’ custody. Mr Gibson was released to paramedics for treatment of alcohol poisoning and a head injury and transported to a local hospital," the statement said.
Some reports have indicated that Gibson was taken into custody inside the nightclub and then taken outside where he began vomiting, and that he injured his head when he fell due to extreme intoxication.
Several eyewitnesses inside the club at the time, however, had described seeing Gibson grabbed by officers and thrown to the floor in a hallway at the back of the club. The witnesses said that Gibson hit his head at that point, and that several officers were holding him down, one kneeling on his back and another placing his foot on Gibson’s head or neck.
Gibson was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at JPS Hospital where he was treated for bleeding in his brain. He remained hospitalized as of press time on Wednesday, July 1.
"We are saddened that this incident occurred and extend our sincere hope that Mr. Gibson recovers quickly," Steen said in the statement. "I have initiated an internal affairs investigation to answer questions about how these locations were chosen, to review the agents’ actions, and specifically to establish the facts surrounding Mr. Gibson’s injury."
Steen also asks that anyone who witnessed misconduct by TABC agents contact Lt. Andy Pena, acting director of the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 512-206-3405.
Steen said information on how to file a complaint against a TABC agent and information on agency policy on employee investigations can be found online at TABC.state.tx.us.
"I take seriously all allegations concerning inappropriate or illegal behavior by our employees," Steen said. "We have in the past, and we will in the future, take action against any employee found to have violated agency policy or the law."
Steen’s pledge for a thorough investigation of the raid at Rainbow Lounge and the circumstances surrounding Gibson’s injury echo a pledge made Tuesday evening by Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead.
Halstead said his department is conducting a comprehensive investigation into allegations of misconduct by Fort Worth police officers, and asked that anyone who witnessed the events at the bar contact Capt. Garcia at 817-392-4270.
Gay Fort Worth Councilmember Joel Burns was out of town when the raid occurred early Sunday morning.
But he returned in time to speak at a rally on the steps of the Tarrant County Courthouse that same evening.
Burns and Mayor Pro-Tem Kathleen Hicks, in whose district the Rainbow Lounge is located, both issued immediate calls for Halstead to begin an investigation of the incident. Burns also contacted state Sen. Wendy Davis and state Rep. Lon Burnham and asked for their assistance in communicating with TABC.
Davis said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon that she and Burnham had met earlier in the day with Steen and other TABC officials to discuss the situation.
Davis said she and Burnham asked Steen about TABC’s policies and procedures for conducting operations such as the one on Saturday night and "some very specific questions on how those policies and procedures were followed" in carrying out the inspection at the Rainbow Lounge and the other nightclubs.
"Both Lon and I want to get to the bottom of this, to find out factually what occurred and what should have occurred," Davis said.
Davis said she and Burnham are "deeply concerned" over the outcome of the inspection, and over the fact that accounts given by TABC agents, Fort Worth police officers and eyewitnesses in the Rainbow Lounge "don’t seem to match up."
She said TABC officials seemed "sincere" and "expressed the appropriate concern" over the situation, and that she was "comforted to hear they are conducting a detailed investigation" into the matter.
In a joint statement released later Wednesday, Davis and Burnham also called for an investigation by some agency outside TABC and Fort Worth police.
The legislators suggested the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department as one possible option for conducting the investigation.
A photo taken inside the Rainbow Lounge by Chuck Potter as the raid was happening show several officers dressed in tan or khaki-colored uniforms surrounding an unidentified man who is lying face down on the floor in the back hallway of the bar, near the restroom.
Davis said she has been told the unidentified man on the floor "could be Chad Gibson." A source close to Gibson’s family said Wednesday that the man on the floor was definitely Gibson.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 3, 2009.