Three Fort Worth police officers involved in the controversial raid of a gay bar were suspended Thursday for a total of five days – a punishment gay activists immediately decried as “wholly inadequate.”
Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead announced he had suspended one officer and the sergeant who oversaw the raid at the Rainbow Lounge June 28 for one day. Another officer was suspended for three days.
“Whether it be a gay bar or a straight bar or any kind of bar, five days suspension is wholly inadequate for what happened,” said Jon Nelson, spokesman for Fairness Fort Worth, a gay rights group that formed after the raid. “What message does this send to the citizens of Fort Worth and members of the police department?”
Halstead conceded the officers were disrespectful, over-aggressive and erred by showing up in force to inspect the bar in the first place. The Rainbow Lounge had just opened and had no history of complaints.
Halstead appeared with other city leaders and activists at a news conference outside the Rainbow Lounge to announce the findings of a 1,000-page internal report.
The inquiry faulted officers for not writing a timely report on the June 28 raid, but concluded officers did not use excessive force or violate other operational policies.
Officers are supposed to write arrest reports by the end of every shift, but in this case their supervisors called them in the next day – after gay groups had launched protests, Halstead said.
Officer K.Q. Gober, who joined the department three years ago, was suspended for one day for failing to write a timely report.
Sgt. Richard Morris also was suspended for one day for failing to make sure the report was written. Morris, well-known in the department as a part-time preacher and karate instructor, supervised the raid. The 32-year veteran has had "an exemplary career," Halstead said.
Officer J.M. Back, a nine-year veteran, received the longest suspension -- three days -- for mishandling an arrest. He arrested one man for public intoxication without properly evaluating whether he was really drunk and later released him after he identified himself as a city employee, Halstead said.
All three officers apologized for what happened and do not plan to appeal their suspensions, Halstead said.
"When you have permanent unpaid suspensions that stay in your file for the rest of your career, that's pretty significant discipline," Halstead said. "What is adequate discipline? You want me to take a month of pay from them? How you measure that?"
The chief said he was working with city attorneys to release a written summary of the investigation. He said there are legal problems with releasing the full report.
The raid drew national attention when eight officers and two agents from the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission went into the bar at about 1 a.m. and arrested several patrons for allegedly being intoxicated in public.
One customer, Chad Gibson, received a serious head injury and was hospitalized for a week.
Investigators concluded he was extremely drunk and hit his head when he fell outside while vomiting, not in an initial scuffle with officers inside the bar. He was in the custody of a rookie agent for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
"Of the witnesses interviewed who claimed to observe the arrest of Mr. Gibson, none said they observed him strike his head on the step or floor," Halstead said.
However, following the chief's news conference, Rainbow Lounge manager Randy Norman said he told investigators exactly that.
"No, I witnessed where he was pushed," Norman said. "I can show you the step where he hit his head."
He said he described for investigators how it happened.
"They need to listen to my statement one more time," he said. "Somebody left a little out or they had a skip in the tape."
Gay groups immediately criticized the timing of the raid, which came on the 40th anniversary of a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, which led to yearly parades on that day and sparked the modern gay rights movement.
The officers involved in the Fort Worth raid had no idea about the significance of the day in the gay community and did not target the bar because it catered to gay clientele, Halstead said. They also made arrests in two Latino bars earlier that night.
The uproar led police to change the department’s policy on bar inspections, requiring officers to get supervisor approval and to document a history of problems. The Rainbow Lounge was celebrating its grand opening.
The department also appointed an officer to serve as a liaison to the gay community. That position is now permanent, Halstead said.
A separate diversity task force made numerous recommendations to the city council, including extending insurance benefits to same-sex partners of city employees.
Also on Thursday, TABC announced that its internal investigation determined its agents did not use excessive force in arresting three patrons. The report also concluded that the allegation that the bar was targeted because of its gay clientele was unfounded.
"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," TABC administrator Alan Steen said in a prepared statement. "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."
The two agents and their supervisor were fired for violating various agency policies, and the agency has ordered diversity training for its employees statewide.