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

Fort Worth refuses to release Rainbow Lounge names that have already been released

The city of Fort Worth is seeking to withhold the names of witnesses who were present during the Rainbow Lounge raid, arguing that releasing the names would violate the witnesses’ privacy and cause people to speculate about their sexual orientation, The Star-Telegram reports here. As a result, many of the names likely will be redacted from the police department’s final report on the Rainbow Lounge raid, which the city says it will release by Dec. 11.

This is very interesting, especially considering that all or almost all of the witnesses’ names have already been released by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, in this report from last month. I count a total of 29 witness names in the TABC report, but apparently someone forgot to inform The Star-Telegram about this minor detail, because it isn’t even mentioned in the story. Also, is the city of Fort Worth not aware that TABC has already released the witnesses’ names? What is the city going to withhold next, the solution to two plus two? And if they did, would there be a story in The Star-Telegram?

But seriously, privacy is a legitimate concern, especially when it comes to sexual orientation. In a state where people can be fired for being gay and in a country where they can be kicked out of the military for divulging their sexual orientation, it’s a very legitimate concern. But as the story notes, sexual orientation has never been on the list of things that are considered private and protected under Texas open records law. As a journalist, I would tend to argue that people’s sexual orientation should not be private under open records law. But as a gay person, I would argue that in some cases it should.

In a letter to the Attorney General’s Office defending its decision to withhold the witnesses’ names, the city states that it “values the diversity of its citizenry and takes pride in all of the communities represented, including the LGBT community.” But in light of the fact that the witnesses’ names have already been released by TABC, this statement just seems like grandstanding or pandering on the part of the city. Still, I’m willing to support the city in its position that people’s sexual orientation should be private under open records law, and I’d even applaud a decision from the AG’s Office upholding the city’s position, but only on one very important condition: If sexual orientation is going to be private under open records law, the state of Texas must agree that from now on it’s going to keep its nose the hell out of people’s bedrooms in general. Deal?

—  John Wright

TABC clears agents of excessive force, says they didn't target Rainbow Lounge

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 a report that will be released by the state agency later today.

The agents, Christopher Aller and Jason Chapman, were fired along with their supervisor in August based on the findings of TABC’s first 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.

“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. “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.”

I’m told that TABC’s full 74-page use of force report, which I haven’t seen, will be available later today online, and we’ll post the link as soon as it’s available. You can read the full press release about the report, which was sent out first thing this morning, after the jump. For more coverage, see Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  John Wright

NBC report: No excessive force used by FWPD in Rainbow Lounge raid

KXAS Channel 5, the local NBC affiliate, has posted a story on its Web site, citing unnamed Fort Worth city officials, saying that the Fort Worth Police Department’s investigation into the June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge found that officers did not use excessive force that night.

The sources also said that no officers will be fired over the incident although at least one may face some sort of disciplinary action.

Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead has scheduled a press conference to announce the results of the investigation tomorrow (Thursday) at 10 a.m. at the Rainbow Lounge.

TABC will also be releasing the findings in its investigation into its agents’ possible use of excessive force tomorrow morning.

—  admin

TABC to release use-of-force report Thursday, the same day FWPD unveils its findings

Carolyn Beck from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission sends along official word this evening that the agency will release the findings of its second and final investigation into the Rainbow Lounge raid on Thursday, Nov. 5.  TABC most recently had said its second investigation, which deals with agents’ use of force against patrons injured in the raid, wouldn’t be released until mid-November. Tonight’s announcement means TABC will release the use-of-force report on the same day that the Fort Worth Police Department unveils findings from its investigations into the Rainbow Lounge raid. TABC released its first investigation, which dealt with policy violations by employees, in August. All in all, this should make for a long, interesting day on Thursday, but we plan to have full coverage in Friday’s Voice if it kills us.

—  John Wright

Resource Center to provide LGBT diversity training for TABC employees statewide

In response to the Rainbow Lounge raid, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced this morning that it has hired Resource Center Dallas to provide LGBT diversity training to all of the agency’s 700 employees statewide. The training reportedly will make TABC the first state agency to undertake such an initiative. Read my full story by going here.

—  John Wright

Is TABC really sorry for the Rainbow Lounge, or is Rick Perry just trolling for gay votes?

Gov. Rick Perry
Gov. Rick Perry

Over in the comments to this story from last week’s Voice, one F.S. Enriquez espouses the theory that TABC Administrator Alan Steen has only been so profusely apologetic for the Rainbow Lounge raid because the man who appoints his bosses, Gov. Rick Perry, is up for re-election next year and wants the gay vote. It seems a little far-fetched, given that most LGBT people would seem more likely to support Perry’s opponent in the Republican Primary, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, or one of the Democrats. But Enriquez’s theory makes a little more sense in light of  this story from The Dallas Morning News, which reveals that the chairman of the TABC, Perry appointee José Cuevas, has been soliciting campaign contributions for the governor from owners of the same restaurants and bars that the agency regulates. Not surprisingly, Perry spokesman Mark Miner denies that this represents any conflict of interest, but The DMN notes that Perry himself once criticized an opponent for a similar practice:

Campaign records show that Perry has received more than $400,000 from restaurant interests since he became governor in 2000. In addition, he has raised nearly $800,000 from beer and liquor interests regulated by the TABC.

As a candidate seeking statewide office for the first time in 1990, Perry called for an investigation of his Democratic opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, because a grain and seed regulator under Hightower was soliciting campaign contributions from those he regulated.

Perry’s campaign manager denounced “the shakedown of people regulated by the Texas Department of Agriculture” and said that “this kind of political strong-arming is reprehensible.”

—  John Wright

TABC pushes back release of report on agents' use of force at Rainbow Lounge

Last week, the Fort Worth Police Department announced that the release of its Rainbow Lounge investigation report has been pushed back until next month, prompting criticism from some in the LGBT community. Today, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced that the release of the agency’s second investigation into the June raid has also been delayed. The second TABC report, which previously was scheduled to be released by late October, is now scheduled to be released in mid-November. TABC released its first report, which dealt with policy violations, in August. TABC’s second investigation deals with agents’ use of force against Rainbow Lounge patron Chad Gibson, who was injured in the raid. Here’s the full statement we received today from agency spokeswoman Carolyn Beck:

TABC recently communicated that the Use of Force investigation related
to the Rainbow Lounge would be complete by October 15, 2009.

Today, the investigator requested, and was granted, an extension on the
report. The additional time is needed to review recently received
documents and to consult with the agency’s force instructor.

The investigator expects to be finished with the report by October 30th.
At that time, it will be forwarded to the General Counsel who has ten
days to review and approve the report.

At this time, we expect the investigation to be complete and the
findings released by mid-November.

—  John Wright

Rainbow Lounge bartender's blood alcohol was over 3 times limit at time of deadly crash

Brad Larsen
Brad Larsen

FORT WORTH — Bradley Larsen, the Rainbow Lounge bartender killed in a car wreck July 26, had a blood-alcohol content more than three times the legal limit at the time of the crash, according to toxicology results released earlier today by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Larsen’s blood-alcohol content at the time of the crash was 0.254. The legal limit is 0.08.

Larsen’s toxicology results also came back positive for cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs. The Medical Examiner’s report lists Larsen’s primary cause of death as blunt-force head trauma.

“He was under the influence, yes, very much so,” said Linda Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Medical Examiner’s Office. “It would be a contributing factor because it would impair his ability to react to certain things.”

Larsen was traveling at speeds of up to 100 mph on eastbound Interstate 30 in Arlington when he rear-ended an 18-wheeler at about 6:15 a.m. that Sunday, according to police reports.

Carolyn Beck, a spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, said today the agency is now conducting a full-scale “source investigation” to try to determine where Larsen consumed the alcohol in his system, and whether it was obtained illegally.

Beck has said previously that if it’s determined that Larsen, who’d worked the night before, had been drinking at the Rainbow Lounge after hours — which is illegal — it could mean serious penalties for the bar under its liquor license.

“As soon as it [the wreck] happened, they started fact-finding, interviewing witnesses and things like that,” Beck said. “But once they have evidence of intoxication, that’s what kicks it into higher gear.”

“Our investigators are working hard to find out exactly what happened and whether any laws were violated, other than the obvious ones,” she said.

Randy Norman, general manager of the Rainbow Lounge, told Dallas Voice in July that the Rainbow Lounge closed at 2 that morning. Norman said he saw Larsen leave the bar at about 4 a.m.

“I don’t know where he went afterward,” Norman said at the time. “Brad was definitely not intoxicated when he left this bar. Our policy is no tolerance on drinking by staff.”

—  John Wright