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Fort Worth protests against bar raid continue
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Fort Worth protests against bar raid continue

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seven Queer LiberAction (QL) demonstrators were removed from a contentious Fort Worth City Council meeting Tuesday, as Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief apologized for city police participation in a June 28 raid on a Gay bar.

Meanwhile agents of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) shut down a second Gay bar in Dallas. The Dallas Eagle was closed by TABC agents on July 10.

In an attempt to quiet chanting demonstrators in the City Council chambers, Moncrief said "Listen, if you want an apology from your mayor, I am sorry for what happened in Fort Worth. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry."

Police nevertheless had to intervene, and eventually ejected seven demonstrators, including QL founder Blake Wilkinson who repeatedly demanded that discussion of the raid be moved to the top of the Council's agenda.

On Wednesday, the mayor's office backed off any seeming acknowledgment of wrongdoing by city police.

"The mayor and council are always sorry if anyone is hurt ever in our city," Fort Worth city spokesperson Bill Begley said. "The mayor has asked for a thorough investigation of what happened in the Rainbow Lounge to the point that he's asked for the US attorney to get involved ... but the apology is that anyone is ever hurt in any incident."

Also at Tuesday's City Council meeting, Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead announced the appointment of a special police liaison with the local LGBT community. Officer Sara Straten, an openly Lesbian 17-year veteran of the force, volunteered for the role.

Attorney Jon Nelson, co-founder of Fairness Fort Worth, a new LGBT organization formed in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid, told the City Council "I believe that this Police Department does a good job and that those who wear the uniform try to serve and protect us, but that belief does not create an assumption that everything was OK at the Rainbow Lounge."

Several bar patrons also testified at the Council meeting, including Sarah Bryant, a straight woman who was at the bar with her boyfriend at the time of the raid. "That was the first time I was ever afraid of the police," she said. "After that, I was overwhelmed with disappointment and I guess a little bit disturbed. ... We just need your help to move on."

TABC agents, who have been blamed by Fort Worth police for most of the violence at the raid, closed the Dallas Eagle for permit violations. In contrast to their reported behavior at the Rainbow Lounge, their conduct at the Eagle was - by all accounts - restrained and professional.

While Fort Worth police have announced they will no longer participate in joint operations with TABC, the state agents were accompanied by Dallas police at the Eagle raid. Police arrived at the Eagle without the paddy wagons and zip cuffs they brought to the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth. Seven citations for "sale of beer without a license" were issued to Eagle owners and staff, but there were no arrests.

The owners of the Eagle issued a media release Monday saying that the TABC raid on their bar was a result of their own failure to change the address on their liquor permit in time for the opening of their new location. They also suggested that an unnamed competitor in the Gay bar industry had tipped off the TABC.

Chad Gibson, the Rainbow Lounge patron who sustained severe brain injuries as a result of his arrest by TABC agents, has been released from the hospital and is recovering. He is expected to miss four to six weeks of work, and he may suffer episodic headaches for the next two years, according to doctors.

QL has been holding weekly protest rallies on the steps of the Tarrant County Court House, and they plan to continue. Fairness Fort Worth has arranged to have lawyers available to assist and advise witnesses on a pro bono basis. They have also brokered two meetings among representatives of all the ongoing investigations of the Rainbow Lounge raid.

Both the Fort Worth Police Department and TABC have launched internal affairs investigations of the Rainbow Lounge raid. Fort Worth police have also begun a second investigation which is being handled by their major cases squad.

Mayor Moncrief has asked the US Attorney for north Texas to review the police inquiries. City Council member Kathleen Hicks, who represents the district where Rainbow Lounge is located, and openly Gay City Council member Joel Burns have also called for an independent investigation.

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