The Fort Worth City Council this week unanimously passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Attorney’s Office to conduct a complete and independent investigation into the June 28 raid at the Rainbow Lounge.
The council also voted to establish the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force, intended to specifically address LGBT issues.
The votes came Tuesday, July 21, one week after a marathon council meeting that included more than 20 citizens expressing concern over the incident. During the July 14 meeting, each council member voiced support for Mayor Mike Moncrief’s call for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to review results of the Fort Worth Police Department’s two ongoing internal investigations — one by the Internal Affairs Division, and one by the Major Case Squad.
Both Fort Worth PD investigations and a similar investigation under way at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission are focusing on determining whether officers with the two agencies used excessive force during the raid, and on exactly how Chad Gibson was injured that night.
Gibson, 26, was among the five people arrested for public intoxication during the June 28 raid on the recently opened gay nightclub. He suffered a brain injury during the arrest that left him hospitalized for a week.
Fort Worth police officers and TABC agents said Gibson was injured when he fell on the sidewalk outside the bar because of extreme intoxication. But witnesses inside the bar at the time have said he was injured when officers first pushed him into a wall and then threw him to the floor to handcuff him.
TABC Administrator Alan Steen, in the days following the raid, issued a statement confirming that Gibson was in TABC custody when the injury occurred.
The newly formed Fairness Fort Worth has worked to help witnesses to the raid provide their testimony to officials with both of the agencies involved in the raid. But Fairness Fort Worth member David Mack Henderson told the council before its vote this week that at least four witnesses are still afraid to come forward.
He said the witnesses are "the four persons who were closest to the arrest of Chad Gibson" that night at the bar, but that "not one of them is currently willing to come forward and give their testimony. They are still scared stiff."
Because of that, Henderson said, it won’t be "until the veil of intimidation if lifted" by means of an independent investigation that the full story can be known.
Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead initially said that seven people were arrested during the raid, two for assault on an officer and five for public intoxication, but that the assault charges were later dropped.
He also said early in the aftermath of the raid that patrons inside the bar made "sexually suggestive movements" toward officers, and that one person — Chad Gibson — had groped an officer’s groin.
In an incident report filed following the raid by Officer K. Gober, Fort Worth officers said they observed "six subjects who exhibited signs of intoxication … and arresting officers felt the subjects were a danger to themselves and others. These subjects were escorted outside and placed under arrest. … One subject (CIT1 Gibson, Chad …) was released to MEDSTAR to be taken to JPS for treatment of alcohol poisoning and his head injury from falling while vomiting."
But Henderson told the council this week that at least 21 patrons in the bar were actually told they were under arrest for public intoxication, cuffed and taken out of the bar, even though "two-thirds of them were later cut loose."
Those tactics, plus Halstead’s "incendiary claims of sexual misconduct" made those people afraid to come forward to give their statements to representatives of the same agencies that had conducted the raid, Henderson said.
Referring to Halstead’s early statements, Henderson added, "The Fort Worth way is to have these statements retracted or repudiated. … The Fort Worth way is knowing when it’s appropriate to ask for help" from an outside source.
David Reed, president of the Tarrant County Gay and Lesbian Alliance, also spoke to the council before the vote on the resolution Tuesday. He started out by apologizing to the council for actions by members of Queer LiberAction that led to five members of the group being ejected from the council chambers.
Reed applauded Moncrief and the council "for your patience in dealing with the rude and disruptive behavior that brought shame and disrepute to our community and its leadership."
Reed then went on to urge the council to ask for an independent investigation, rather than just a review, saying it is "necessary to restore confidence in our police department." He also noted that "you have to go back 30 years" to find a similar incident between the city’s police department and the LGBT community.
"We have become to used to a more reasonable [interaction]. That’s why there has been such a firestorm of outrage," Reed said.
D.J. Johannessen thanked the council and Chief Halstead for their "actions taken in the past week [including the appointment of an LGBT liaison for the police department] and for the action you are authorizing here today."
But, he added, "while much progress has been made, much difficult work still needs to be done."
He urged the council to take advantage of the resources already existing in the city and its LGBT community to "move past this issue and begin the healing process."
Both Mayor Moncrief and openly gay City Councilman Joel Burns said they believed the Fort Worth PD’s investigations would be fair and unbiased, but both also agreed that an independent investigation by an outside authority is necessary to remove any doubts others might have.
City Councilmember Carter Burdette said witnesses to the raid must be given the chance to "testify freely and frankly" without any fear of reprisal.
"We have some digging to do to get to the bottom of this. We have to get the facts out and let the cards fall where they may," Burdette said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 24, 2009.