DA’s office confirms that charges have been dismissed or rejected in all 11 Club Dallas cases

The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office has now dismissed or rejected charges against all 11 of the men arrested in a controversial police raid at a gay bathhouse in October.

Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office, confirmed today that 10 of the cases have been dismissed, while one was rejected and therefore will not be filed.

Bradfield said District Attorney Craig Watkins was out of the office and unavailable for comment. Bradfield said it’s possible that Watkins will be available for comment Thursday about why the DA’s office chose not to prosecute the cases.

Watkins previously has declined to discuss the matter because some of the cases were still pending.

Defense attorneys have said they believe the cases were dismissed over questions about whether the bathhouse, Club Dallas on Swiss Avenue in Deep Ellum, is considered a public place. Court documents say only that the cases were dismissed “in the interest of justice.”

Ten of the 11 men were charged with public lewdness or indecent exposure after undercover officers observed them engaging in various sex acts inside the business. An employee was charged with interfering with police after he refused to allow uniformed officers into the club to execute the arrests.

Dallas police have said they conducted the raid, the first of its kind in recent memory, in response to a citizen complaint. But police officials have declined to comment on whether they’ll conduct vice operations at Club Dallas or other gay bathhouses in the future, given that the DA’s office dismissed the cases.

“The Dallas Police Department recently learned that many of the charges involving activities at The Club Dallas in October 2010 were dismissed,” DPD said in a statement last month. “The department plans to meet with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office as soon as possible regarding these cases. The purpose of the meeting is to determine the cause of the dismissals, and to determine what, if any, procedural changes may be needed. An update will be provided following the meeting.”

—  John Wright

Top 10: Rare bathhouse raid sparked controversy

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When Dallas vice officers raided The Club Dallas on Oct. 8 for the first time in recent memory, it made national news and gave rise to some conspiracy theories. Some said the raid was part of a city effort to shut down the gay bathhouse to make way for redevelopment around a new DART rail station, which sits directly adjacent to the 34-year-old establishment at 2616 Swiss Ave. in Deep Ellum. Others said the raid was politically motivated since it came just before a major election, as such crackdowns have historically tended to do. Still others, of course, felt it was an example of law enforcement targeting the gay community.

But the Dallas Police Department, in a rare statement issued by the vice unit several days later, said the raid was conducted in response to a complaint from a citizen. “The Dallas Police Department is charged with the duty of investigating, enforcing, and responding to citizen complaints regarding sexually oriented businesses throughout the city,” the statement read in part. “The Vice Unit is committed to being responsive to community concerns and thus, conducts its investigations in an equitable and just manner.”

Indeed, records obtained by Dallas Voice through a Freedom of Information request confirm that an unidentified person made a complaint to police about the club on Oct. 5. Three days later, on a Friday night, plainclothes vice officers purchased day memberships, rented private rooms and changed into towels. Then they went into the common areas of the business and observed patrons engaged in sex acts, according to police reports.

After uniformed officers were called in, police arrested seven patrons on charges of public lewdness and three on charges of indecent exposure. They also arrested a manager for interfering with police after he refused to let in the uniformed officers, who eventually forced open a door.

Club members and others accused the Police Department of harassment and intimidation. They also argued that raiding the gay bathhouse would only drive men looking for sex into parks and public restrooms.

The Club Dallas bailed its members out of jail and said it would provide attorneys.

Meanwhile, according to police records, the person who made the complaint called back on Oct. 13 and asked authorities to raid the business again. Despite the second complaint, vice officers haven’t returned to Club Dallas.

— John Wright

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas