Alex Blaze

Ft. Worth gay bar raid might have happened because the TABC doesn't discipline its officers properly

Filed By Alex Blaze | September 23, 2009 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Associated Press, Atlanta, homophobic behavior, investigation, journalism, LGBT, police, police brutality, rainbow lounge, Texas, texas abc, transphobia

Surprise, surprise: the police can't police themselves.

An Associated Press review of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's internal affairs logs found that all but 39 of the 234 allegations of excessive force or unprofessional conduct lodged against agents since 2004 have been closed without disciplinary action. Moreover, in nearly every excessive force case reviewed by the AP, the accused agents' bosses were the ones who conducted the investigations.

The allegations ranged from officers improperly tackling, punching and using pepper spray on people. The agency has long had a reputation for heavy-handedness and garnered national attention in 2006 when state legislators forced it to cancel a program that aggressively sought to curb public drunkenness through stings that arrested people - even some bartenders- in bars.

The Rainbow Lounge raid earlier this summer got attention because Ft. Worth LGBT folks grabbed on to the story and wouldn't let go. And some disciplinary action has been taken.

The police aren't just allowed to do whatever they want to - that's why we have various laws preventing them from just beating people up who don't follow their orders fast enough or who they just plain don't like. But if the only enforcement mechanisms are the police investigating themselves and weeks of protest followed by national outcry, what's the point of having laws against police brutality at all? Few cases of police brutality are going to garner the sort of attention that the Rainbow Lounge raid did, even if they're violent incidents that result in serious injury for the victims.

Kelli in the comments explains what's happened in Ft. Worth:

The Rainbow Lounge raid opened our eyes in the DFW. The only way that we could get a response initially was to be loud, very very loud. The TABC fired 3 agents, suspended 2. The FT Worth police have yet to make anything other than a very vague apology and a promise to put in place regulations that would prohibit gay bashing. (None are on the books now)

Apparently the TABC was more responsive to public pressure than the police. But the TABC doesn't have a great record of responsiveness, according to the AP:

The AP found that 46 allegations of excessive force were made against 36 TABC agents since 2004. Nearly half came in 2005, the height of the agency's crackdown on public drunkenness. All but five of the 46 were dismissed without disciplinary action. In two instances, agents received counseling for lesser offenses. Three allegations are shown as pending.


One recent incident examined by the AP underscores the questions surrounding the process within the TABC.

It involved a Victoria-based agent shown on a security video appearing to tackle a bar patron violently from behind as the patron walks to the door of the club. Based on the video, an assistant district attorney in Victoria County declined to prosecute the patron for resisting arrest, but the TABC has decided that the agent didn't do anything wrong.

Andy Pena, the TABC officer in charge of internal affairs, said the agent, Jeff Rendon, appropriately subdued a man who earlier tried to avoid getting arrested in a part of the club that did not have security cameras.

The patron, Eric Arriaga, has filed a federal lawsuit against Rendon and another agent claiming that his civil rights were violated and that he received numerous injuries, including a broken ankle.

It's the third excessive-force allegation against Rendon, 37, since he joined the agency in 2004, the most of any agent in that time period. One was ruled unfounded after Rendon's supervisor investigated. The other was closed as justified even though TABC officials never contacted the person who allegedly was roughed up.

Beck said Rendon is on administrative leave for a matter unrelated to the use of force. He did not respond to phone messages from the AP.

Why didn't the DA look into the accusation against Rendon? If anyone else tackled someone and broke their ankle in front of a camera, someone other than me or the people I work for would investigate. And if the cop was telling the truth about the patron's actions off-camera, that would come out in the investigation.

The AP's numbers obviously can't take into account instances of police brutality where the victims don't file a complaint with the TABC, either because they're afraid it'll come back to haunt them when they're being investigated and tried for a crime, or because they just don't have any faith that their complaint will be taken seriously. This is the problem with leaving these sorts of things up to internal investigations means that it's a chummy club investigating itself. People who know each other, who work with each other, who, therefore, can't possibly be objective, are investigating one another.

All this is swept under the rug by the fact that most people who donate to political campaigns just don't want the police to be encumbered in any way, which is why politicians know they have to be "tough on crime" in order to win, no matter what's right or wrong, no matter what their constituents actually want from the police (which may be, unfortunately, more police with no accountability).

It's rather absurd that we let the police police themselves, or the TABC internally handle complaints of their agents breaking the law. It's the same reason that a man's mother can't be the judge if he's in court for so little as contesting a parking ticket - we expect people who handle investigations into other people's wrong-doing to be as objective as possible.

But when it comes to the police - people who are armed, trained in violence, scary, and are often racist, homophobic, and transphobic - for some reason they're allowed to investigate themselves. What gives?

Which is all why this energy around these instances of police brutality would be better channelled into creating a system of police accountability instead of just accountability for these specific instances. Because this isn't going to stop so long as police feel like - and are justified in feeling so - they can get away with anything.

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The TABC is a joke; I hear stories about off-duty TABC officers getting paid as "contractors" for "maintenance" by bar owners; needless to say no maintenance work is actually performed.

Five bucks says this raid wouldn't have happened if the bar owners had paid off the right people.

You're probably right. Shaking down gay bars is a tradition.