TABC settlements bring ‘closure’

Tom Anable

Fairness Fort Worth president says payments to Gibson, Armstrong fair; TABC spokeswoman says agency is happy with mediated settlements

JOHN WRIGHT | Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Two years and one month after the Rainbow Lounge raid, Fort Worth’s LGBT community finally has some closure, according to the president of an advocacy group formed in response to the incident.

Last week it was reported that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission had reached monetary settlements with two patrons injured in the June 2009 raid of the gay bar, which occurred on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.

Chad Gibson, who suffered a serious head injury in the raid, will receive $210,000 from TABC. George Armstrong, who suffered a torn rotator cuff, will receive $15,000.

The city of Fort Worth, whose police officers conducted the raid along with TABC agents, previously settled with Gibson for $400,000 and with Armstrong for $40,000.

“It closes all the legal issues, and the damage issues,” Fairness Fort Worth President Tom Anable said this week of the TABC settlement. “It’s closure in regards to the Rainbow Lounge incident.

“It’s all done and closed,” Anable added. “We have closure and we’re moving forward with other issues.”

TABC fired two agents and a supervisor after the raid, and FWPD suspended three officers.

“Fort Worth ran the operation. Fort Worth was in charge of the operation,” Anable said. “TABC fired employees, and Fort Worth gave some wrist slaps, so I think it was appropriate they [Fort Worth] paid more money.”

Carolyn Beck

TABC spokeswoman Carolyn Beck said her agency’s settlements with Gibson and Armstrong were agreed to during mediation in March, but had to be signed off on by the offices of the attorney general and the governor.

“Those approvals came through in June, and so here we are now,” said Beck, who was named the agency’s liaison to the LGBT community following the raid. “We are happy that we were able to come to an agreement with mediation, and I personally feel like our relationship with the LGBT community is a lot different than it was two years ago. And I hope that it continues to stay positive.”

After the raid, TABC became the first state agency in Texas to conduct comprehensive LGBT diversity training for its employees.

Don Tittle, the Dallas attorney who represented both Armstrong and Gibson, didn’t respond to a phone message from Dallas Voice this week.

But Tittle told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “It is done. They are very relieved. I think they feel that they received a level of justice, although it was slow. The monetary compensation was fair, but I think it was important to both of them that there be change within both organizations. As a result of the incident, both Fort Worth and TABC have taken affirmative steps to improve relations and to be more sensitive to diversity.”

—  John Wright

TABC, Fort Worth consider settlement with patrons injured in Rainbow Lounge raid

Tom Anable

Fort Worth city administrators are recommending that the City Council approve a settlement with Chad Gibson, one of the patrons who was injured in the Rainbow Lounge raid. The pending settlement is a result of mediation among the city, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and Gibson’s attorneys.

The amount of the settlement from the city is $400,000. The amount from TABC has not been released.

The raid by Fort Worth police officers and TABC agents occurred on June 28, 2008, the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.

Gibson suffered a head injury. George Armstrong was also injured and is included in the settlement. Pending felony charges against Gibson and Armstrong were dropped toward the end of last year before the mediation began.

Three Fort Worth police officers received short suspensions, and two TABC agents were fired, as a result of the incident.

Tom Anable, a founder of Fairness Fort Worth, a group formed in the wake of the raid, said he’s pleased that the city had come to an agreement.

“I think that the willingness of the city to enter into mediation without a federal lawsuit being filed is an indication of their willingness to move forward with our community,” Anable said.

Anable said this is the first time the city has entered into mediation without the threat of a federal lawsuit and the first time a city and TABC entered into joint negotiations.

“That speaks volumes of the city and of TABC,” Anable said. “No one wants to go backward, and that’s the story.”

While Anable said he has no inside information about the negotiations, he added, “As with any mediation, it’s successful if neither side is really happy but both are satisfied.”

Carolyn Beck, a spokeswoman for TABC, said, “TABC has engaged in settlement discussions with [Gibson] attorney Don Tittle. At this time the parties have agreed not to comment on those discussions until any resolution is finalized.”

Adam Seidel, an attorney for Gibson and Armstrong, was not available for comment this morning.

The item is on the agenda for Tuesday’s Fort Worth City Council meeting.

Gibson, who was hospitalized after the raid, is still receiving treatment for the injuries he sustained.

—  David Taffet

TABC renews contract with RCD

Carolyn Beck

Beck says center will provide diversity training for about 50 new TABC employees

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

AUSTIN — A spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission confirmed this week that the agency plans to continue LGBT diversity training for its employees, which she called “one of the positive things that came out of the Rainbow Lounge.”

TABC spokeswoman Carolyn Beck said Thursday, March 17 that the agency has signed a new contract for LGBT diversity training with Resource Center Dallas.

A few months after the raid of the Fort Worth gay bar in 2009, TABC paid Resource Center $14,212 to train all of the agency’s roughly 700 employees — in a series of 24 two-hour sessions in 11 locations across the state.

This time, Resource Center will train the roughly 50 TABC employees who’ve been hired since the initial round of training was completed last year. The second round of training, at a cost of $2,700, will take place during sessions in Dallas, Houston and Austin between March and July.

“We thought it was important at the time for our employees to receive diversity training like this, and it’s still important for the same reasons that it was before,” Beck said. “It really only makes sense if you continue the training. … The training is one of the positive things that came out of the Rainbow Lounge.”

TABC, whose agents raided the bar along with officers from the Fort Worth Police Department in June 2009, later fired three employees for policy violations related to the incident.

TABC Commissioner Alan Steen has publicly apologized for the raid on at least two occasions.

TABC reportedly is the first state agency in Texas to conduct comprehensive LGBT diversity training for all of its employees.

Beck, who also serves as TABC’s liaison to the LGBT community, said she doesn’t believe diversity training would have prevented the Rainbow Lounge raid.

However, she said the training has been beneficial to the agency.

“The one thing about it, across the board, it creates a lot of discussion, which I think is in itself a positive thing,” Beck said. “The training pushes some people’s boundaries, which I believe is the intent.”

Rafael McDonnell, strategic communications and programs manager for Resource Center Dallas, said the new training contract is the culmination of efforts that began last spring, when TABC solicited input on its strategic plan.

“I think this shows that TABC is committed to treating the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community with respect and dignity by having all of its employees learn about who we are,” said McDonnell, who helps conduct the LGBT diversity training.

“We did surveys and proved that there was a demonstrated increase in knowledge about the LGBT community among the employees who took part in the training,” McDonnell added. “It shows that what we did is making a difference throughout the state, and that’s extremely gratifying.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

UPDATE: Wet/dry issue more clearly unclear

Carolyn Beck
Carolyn Beck

In the July 30 Dallas Voice, I wrote about the confusion over whether the law allows a citywide election to override previous elections. Carolyn Beck of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission sent over state regulations indicating that if a Justice of the Peace district holds a wet/dry election, that election supersedes any city election. Only another JP district election can override the previous election.

In the article, I mentioned two previous wet/dry elections affecting Oak Cliff, but upon further research I found two others.

In the 1890s, the city of Oak Cliff went dry. In 1960, JP District 7, which includes Oak Cliff, voted to remain dry. But two other elections occurred in the interim.

In 1944, 11 years after the repeal of Prohibition, Dallas County held a countywide election to make the entire county wet. In 1956, another election turned Oak Cliff — and all areas south of the Trinity River — dry. That’s more than JP District 7.

But the 1960 election was a JP district election and to overturn that election, a new JP district election would have to be held. The law clearly states that only a JP district election can overturn a JP district election on wet/dry issues.

—  David Taffet

Wet or dry? November vote could impact LGBT neighborhoods

Liquor sales proposals could loosen restrictions, but mishmash of  laws, districts still leave some doubt

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Carolyn Beck
Carolyn Beck

Dallasites may vote to allow the sale of beer and wine throughout the city, including one of the largest LGBT neighborhoods, Oak Cliff, but even if they vote yes, questions could remain on the legality of liquor sales in some areas.

Two separate proposals will be on the November ballot in Dallas. Either would loosen but not eliminate the dry laws in parts of East Dallas, North Dallas including all areas of the city in Denton and Collin counties, West Dallas and everything south of the Trinity River including all of Oak Cliff.

One proposal will allow grocery stores throughout the city to sell beer and wine. The other will let restaurants that have liquor licenses sell drinks without issuing memberships.

Package stores and bars will still be illegal in those areas.

From Oak Cliff’s gay neighborhoods, the closest available stores currently allowed to sell liquor, beer and wine are those that line Industrial Boulevard within blocks of each bridge that crosses the river.

However, Carolyn Beck, Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission’s liaison to the LGBT community, said she has heard from several sources questioning the validity of the citywide election.

“I’ve gotten questions about whether or not the election would apply to Oak Cliff,” she said.

She is referring to section 251.72 of the Alcoholic Beverage Code.

That regulation states, “An authorized voting unit retains the status adopted until status is changed by a subsequent election in same authorized voting unit.”

Section 251.73 says that results from a Justice of the Peace district election prevail against a city election if the JP precinct is wholly contained by the city.

In 1960, JP 7 held an election that failed to make alcohol sales legal. The vote was 22,439 against to 13,768 for. That JP district included Oak Cliff.

A previous election in the 1890s banned alcohol sales in the city of Oak Cliff. In 1903, Oak Cliff was annexed by the city of Dallas. Prohibition intervened, but once repealed, all previously dry areas remained dry.

The current election is a citywide election, but according to the Alcoholic Beverage Code, the only jurisdiction that can change the wet/dry status of an area is the same one that voted previously.

Since 1960, JP precincts have changed. However, Brazoria County had an election in 2008 using JP boundaries from 1958. Montgomery County is holding one using 1937 boundaries.

Complicating things are Oak Cliff’s multiple dry elections. If an election held in JP District 7 using 1960 boundaries voted to go wet, there would still be a question about the 1890s city of Oak Cliff ban.

Beck said that annexation and de-annexation do not change the status of wet/dry areas.

She said that should the proposals pass, the city could certify grocery stores and supermarkets to sell beer and wine. Restaurants could apply for a license to sell drinks directly and membership organizations would relinquish their licenses.

TABC normally would issue liquor licenses to qualified applicants once certified by the city.

Someone opposed to sale of alcohol in Oak Cliff, however, could stop the process by suing the city for certifying a liquor license application, suing the location for selling alcohol in a dry area or suing TABC for issuing a license in a dry area.

Courts would have to decide whether Oak Cliff actually was still dry.

With millions of dollars at stake, Oak Cliff’s status could be up in the air for years.

Restaurants, including the gay-owned eateries in Bishop Arts District, will benefit if the proposal passes. They would no longer be required to keep records on memberships or hold regular meetings to approve those memberships.

Kathy Jack, left, and her partner Susie Buck of Jack’s Backyard.
Kathy Jack, left, and her partner Susie Buck of Jack’s Backyard.

“I don’t think Oak Cliff will boom while we have this private club thing,” said Nathan Castaneda, owner of Vera Cruz in the Bishop Arts District.

He explained the club membership process, noting that after swiping a driver’s license through a reader similar to a credit card machine, a receipt that’s printed has to be kept on file. He said he’s out of storage room in the restaurant for all the boxes of membership slips.

Casteneda said his neighbors are the private club owners who have to meet every three days to approve and drop members. Under his license, membership numbers need to be kept at about 250 people.

The restaurant cannot profit from liquor sales, which he said keeps salaries down.

“Many good employees move on to Duncanville, Cedar Hill or north of the river,” he said.

To thank his neighbors for being his membership committee, Castaneda said they all eat free.

Kathy Jack, owner of Jack’s Backyard, said that passing the proposals would bring a lot more people to the area.

“It will put us on an equal playing field,” she said.

She said that now she pays about $28,000 in higher license fees and taxes. She said beer costs her more and she also spends money to pick up alcohol herself or pays to send someone to get it since distributors do not deliver to dry areas.

Private clubs in dry areas buy much of their liquor from retail stores. For that reason and because free-standing package stores will still not be allowed to open in currently dry areas, liquor retailers oppose the proposals.

Competition is not something bar owners in other parts of the city are worried about.

“Caven Enterprises is not opposed to the ordinance and we hope the results will benefit the residents of our city,” said Rick Espaillat of Caven.

Gary Huddleston is the southwest division spokesperson for Kroger and chaired the PAC that gathered the signatures for the election.

“Many people are leaving the city to buy beer and wine,” he said.

He said the city’s study showed that Dallas could collect $11 million in additional sales tax revenue. Other studies that include the impact of hiring additional people and sales of additional products along with alcohol purchases showed a $31 million increase in tax collection.

Kroger currently has six stores in the city of Dallas. The two in wet areas — on Cedar Springs Road and on Mockingbird Lane — far exceed the others in sales.

He said the PAC chose to hold a citywide election because it seemed cleaner. JP districts have changed. Numerous areas of the city are dry. He believes a win on each proposal would apply throughout Dallas. He doesn’t foresee the election results being challenged.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Did the Rainbow Lounge raid prompt TABC to stop arresting people for public intoxication?

In fiscal year 2009, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents made 761 arrests for public intoxication — a figure that includes a few high-profile ones you may have heard about at the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth.

In fiscal year 2010, which began one month after the Rainbow Lounge raid, TABC has made just 81 arrests for public intoxication, The Austin American-Statesman reported over the weekend.

Based on these numbers, one might deduce that the highly controversial raid — which resulted in three agents being fired — also prompted TABC to abruptly change its enforcement practices. But according to the agency, this is only partly true.

TABC officials say the changes really began in fiscal year 2007, two years before the raid. Consider that in fiscal year 2006, TABC agents made a whopping 3,100 public intoxication arrests.

But in response to a long series of controversies — the Rainbow Lounge raid being just one of the latest — TABC began shifting its focus from petty criminal enforcement back to its mandate of regulating the businesses that sell alcohol.

Carolyn Beck, a spokeswoman for TABC who also now serves as its liaison to the LGBT community, told Instant Tea on Monday that’s it’s “impossible to calculate” how much of a factor the Rainbow Lounge raid has been.

“If you look at the decreasing numbers of criminal citations issued by our agents, and the increasing number of hours spent on investigations, it’s clear that we have been moving in this direction since FY 2007,” Beck said. “But you can also see a significant jump forward this fiscal year which started 9/1/09. It’s impossible to calculate how much of that push was in response to the Rainbow Lounge, but certainly incidents like the Rainbow Lounge and the shooting in Austin resulted in our agency direction changing at a faster pace.”

—  John Wright

If you think the situation at Youth First is bad, Out Youth doesn't even have toilet paper

Carolyn Beck (remember her???) reports in the comments to my post below about Youth First Texas that Austin’s agency for LGBT youth is facing a similar budget crisis. Beck, if you’ll remember, is the official spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. She also became TABC’s liaison to the LGBT community following last June’s raid of the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth. Beck is straight, but shortly after the raid she began volunteering at Out Youth. And from what I can tell, she did it for no other reason than the fact that she genuinely supports the LGBT community.  Anyhow, Beck points us to a wishlist that’s posted on the Out Youth website. The list includes not only things like toilet paper and paper towels, but also basic necessities like a Netflix subscription and a Wii console. Seriously, though, aren’t we a little concerned — even in a recession — that the LGBT community in Texas is having trouble funding its youth centers? Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for some of us to rethink our priorities. Here’s Beck’s full message:

Out Youth in Austin – the sister organization to Youth First – is having a similar budget crisis and has been cutting back staff hours. The number of hours of counseling available for youth has been cut. And the organization has no operations budget at all — no new pencils, no snacks for the kids, no TP for the potty. (Volunteers can be seen bringing packages of toilet paper with them to the “Out House” because every kind of donation makes a difference.) If any readers are in Austin, or from Austin, or perhaps you were served by Out Youth in Austin, please consider becoming a monthly donor. And Saturday, June 19th is the annual all-ages Out Youth Queer Prom, which is a fundraising event for the organization. Everyone is invited!

—  John Wright

TABC employees in Dallas, Fort Worth conduct food drive for Resource Center pantry

TABC.food.pantry

Carolyn Beck, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s newly appointed liaison to the LGBT communiity, sends along word that TABC employees recently dropped off $300 to $400 worth of food, shown above, at Resource Center Dalllas’ food pantry for people with HIV/AIDS. The food was collected at TABC’s Dallas and Fort Worth offices, and the holiday drive was organized by Agent Staci Ducote, TABC’s community relations liaison for North Texas.

—  John Wright

TABC won't take action against Rainbow Lounge in bartender's alcohol-related death

Bradley Larsen
Bradley Larsen

The Rainbow Lounge won’t face administrative action from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in the death of Bradley Larsen, the bartender who was killed in a car wreck July 26 on Interstate 30.

TABC has closed its source investigation into Larsen’s death after determining there isn’t conclusive evidence to show Larsen was intoxicated at the Rainbow Lounge prior to the wreck, according to TABC spokeswoman Carolyn Beck. Larsen worked the night before the crash, but Rainbow Lounge general manager Randy Norman has said Larsen was not intoxicated when he left the bar at 4 a.m.

Larsen had a blood-alcohol content more than three times the legal limit at the time of the wreck, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office. He was traveling at speeds up to 100 mph when he rear-ended an 18-wheeler on I-30 eastbound in Arlington at about 6:15 a.m. Larsen’s toxicology results also came back positive for cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs.

If TABC’s investigation had determined that Larsen was intoxicated when he left the bar, or that he had consumed alcohol after hours on the premises, the agency could have sought to revoke the bar’s liquor permit.

The wreck occurred less than a month after TABC agents, along with Fort Worth police officers, raided the Rainbow Lounge in an incident that made national headlines.

—  John Wright

TABC amnesty program covers LGBT youth who fall victim to hate crimes, sexual assault

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced yesterday an amnesty program designed to prevent alcohol poisoning among youth. TABC says it will not charge minors with underage drinking if they seek assistance because of a medical emergency or because they’ve been the victim of a violent crime.

I know what you’re thinking — what if TABC agents cause the medical emergency? All joking aside, though, TABC’s newly appointed liaison to the LGBT community, Carolyn Beck, seems to be taking her job seriously. After TABC sent out the initial press release announcing the amnesty program, Beck sent me a follow-up e-mail encouraging me to post the story right here on Instant Tea. Here’s what Beck said in the e-mail:

“With the high incidence of alcohol abuse among young gay people, this is an important issue for your community. Think about a young gay person who was beat up or sexually assaulted after leaving a bar and was afraid to call 911 to report it because they were only 19 and they’d been drinking.

“TABC has taken the first step by coming forward and saying we’re not going to issue citations for underage drinking when someone requests medical attention or has been victimized. You should take this opportunity to encourage your area police departments to do the same. Gay or straight, no one should be afraid to call 911!”

—  John Wright