‘Rainbow Lounge’ doc premieres in Fort Worth

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For the first half hour of Thursday night’s premiere in Fort Worth of Robert Camina’s documentary Raid of the Rainbow Lounge, the audience sat completely still and silent. Many were in tears as they relived the horror of the raid. Among those in the audience was Chad Gibson, who was injured in the raid and later settled with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the city of Fort Worth for more than $600,000.

Not until attorney Jon Nelson rebutted Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead’s assertion that it wasn’t a raid with the comment, “If it walks like a raid and quacks like a raid, it’s a raid,” did the audience break out into applause.

While Nelson was applauded the most through the film, raid witness Todd Camp got the most laughs. His first was when he described the police officers who claimed in their report that the officers were groped during the raid as having a “Village People fixation.”

Halstead is the “character” in the film that evolves most. The week of the raid, he’s seen reading from his officers’ report and defending his department. He said the comments of one woman at the first city council meeting after the raid affected him the most. She had driven from San Francisco to speak. He said he wondered what could have affected someone so much that she decided to drive halfway across the country to speak for three minutes and then turn around and drive back home. At that moment, he began to understand the frustration and anger of the community.

Mayor Mike Moncrief is the person who comes across the worst on film. He appears to have been cornered into making an apology that anyone in the city was hurt. Unlike Halstead, he did not appear in an on-camera interview in the film.

After the film, Halstead, who attended the premiere, again apologized for offending the community with his initial reaction and said that his department has changed. He said that within weeks of the raid, three male officers came out to him.

Halstead told the audience that when a similar raid happened in Atlanta 10 weeks later, he got a call from the acting chief in that city.

“Jeff, help me,” Atlanta’s chief said.

Halstead said that the atmosphere in the Fort Worth Police Department is completely different now than it was less than three years ago. When a rookie class is training, he said he enjoys introducing Sara Straten, the city’s first LGBT community liaison, by saying, “This is Sara. She’s a lesbian.” He said the reaction is always, “Did he really just say that?”

But he said that the raid has made a difference in training on a variety of issues including how officers respond to domestic violence calls.

Meredith Baxter, who narrated the film, spoke briefly at the premiere about how she became involved: A lot of nagging from Fairness Fort Worth President Tom Anable.

The film will be shown in Dallas at the Magnolia Theater on April 25. Tickets are available at RaidoftheRainbowLounge.com.

 

 

—  David Taffet

TABC settles with Rainbow Lounge patrons

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has settled with two patrons injured in the June 2009 raid of the Rainbow Lounge.

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

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

“It is done. They are very relieved,” Don Tittle, attorney for both men, told the Star-Telegram. “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.”

TABC spokeswoman Carolyn Beck told Instant Tea that the settlements were actually 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 thorugh in June, and so here we are now,” Beck said. “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 postiive.”

—  John Wright

UPDATE: Fort Worth won't drop charges against Rainbow Lounge patrons

Jon Nelson
Jon Nelson

Chad Gibson and George Armstrong appeared in court this week to answer misdemeanor charges related to the Rainbow Lounge raid. Gibson and Armstrong were both injured in the raid.

Jon Nelson, an attorney who was a founder of Fairness Fort Worth, said, “Apparently with Chad, he’s being charged with public intoxication and assaulting an officer by groping him. That’s absurd.

“This is the TABC officer who, according to TABC’s own rules and regulations, had no business being in there. This is the same TABC officer who couldn’t go in the Rainbow Lounge a few days earlier because there was no officer with him so he peeked in and saw a dancer in a bathing suit and was going to write it up as lewd behavior.

“That shows quite a bit about his state of mind. As a TABC officer, I’m sure he’s been in a number of gentlemen’s clubs. I doubt he ever wrote up a female dancer in a bathing suit and wrote her up for lewd behavior. So why was he doing that for Rainbow Lounge?

“I think a jury, when they hear this case, will judge his credibility,” Nelson said.

Gerald Pruitt, Fort Worth deputy city attorney, said Gibson is charged with class-C misdemeanors for public intoxication and simple assault. Armstrong is charged with one — public intoxication. A class-C misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of $500 plus court costs.

Four other Rainbow Lounge patrons were charged with public intoxication. Two pleaded guilty but have now rescinded their pleas. All four of the others are expected to go to trial at a later date.

Pruitt said, “We’re proceeding with these as we would any other case. That’s all we can do.”

Gibson and Armstrong’s criminal defense attorney is Adam L. Seidel, past president of the Dallas LGBT Bar Association.

Seidel said, “The city’s own investigation revealed serious misconduct. TABC’s own investigation revealed serious misconduct. Officers were fired and/or suspended. The city’s message was, ‘We made a mistake.’ That’s not the message they send by prosecuting these two victims.”

No trial date has been set for Gibson and Armstrong.

Win or lose, the city gets a black eye. If they win, Fort Worth appears to be bullies, prosecuting someone who spent a week in intensive care as a result of the raid. If they lose, they just appear to be gay bashing.

—  David Taffet