Fort Worth’s police chief on Monday promised a full investigation into the weekend raid of a gay nightclub after witnesses accused officers of roughing up a man who suffered a serious head injury.
Chad Gibson, 26, of Euless, was at the Rainbow Lounge on South Jennings Street Saturday night when seven Fort Worth officers and two Texas Alcoholic Beverage agents entered.
Police said Gibson groped an officer, was extremely drunk, and hit his head when he fell on his own.
But witnesses disputed that version.
"We were walking this way to the bathroom,” said Gibson’s friend, Matt Meador, pointing to the back of the bar. “I had his hand.”
Meador said a Fort Worth officer shoved Gibson against the wall without provocation, apparently offended the two men were holding hands.
Two other witnesses also insisted Gibson had done nothing, and was not resisting when two other officers and a TABC agent jumped in.
"After they pulled his head back, he had time to ask, ‘What's going on?’" said Rocky Croker.
Officers tied Gibson's hands behind his back before they threw him to the ground, hitting his head on a step, the witnesses said.
They said a TABC agent later held him down outside.
"They had him down like this with his knee in his back,” Meador said.
Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead said he ordered an internal investigation after learning a patron in police custody was seriously injured.
"In the police report, it stated he was handcuffed and showed signs of over intoxication, possible alcohol poisoning, and he fell face first," Halstead said.
The chief said police check bars all the time looking for drunken patrons, and were not targeting this one.
"If anyone was a witness to something they feel was unprofessional, they need to come forward," the chief said.
Other questions involve the police timetable.
Police wrote Gibson a ticket for public intoxication and assaulting an officer at 2:10 a.m., noting he couldn't sign the ticket because he was "at the hospital."
But Medstar ambulance service reported it didn't get the call for “an assault” outside the bar until 2:22 a.m., 12 minutes later.
Gibson’s friends say his head injury occurred even earlier.
"A good 30, 45 minutes before they even called the ambulance,” Croker said.
Chad's mother said her son will remain in the hospital at least a week as doctors try to control bleeding on his brain.
"I think they made a big mistake when they did what they did,” Karen Carter said. “And they're trying to cover it up now."
Carter said a neurologist told her that her son's injury could not have been caused by a simple fall.
Councilman Joel Burns, the first openly gay elected official in Tarrant County, said he is also looking into what happened.
"I've asked for as thorough a report as possible ... to reassure folks that the police are not singling out any group," Burns said Monday.
Mayor Pro Tem Kathleen Hicks said she was "very concerned" after hearing from patrons and others in the community about what happened.
George Armstrong, 41, said he had been at the Rainbow Lounge about 30 minutes and had ordered one drink when officers stormed inside. He said as an officer passed him, he smiled and flashed the peace sign, but then he was suddenly grabbed and tackled to the floor with his arm twisted behind his back.
"He was yelling at me to stop resisting arrest, but I wasn't doing anything. It was horrible. I really thought he had broken my shoulder," Armstrong told The Associated Press on Monday.
"I've never been so embarrassed and humiliated. I didn't do anything to him," he said.
Armstrong was arrested, but he said no officers advised him of his Miranda rights or administered any tests to determine his blood-alcohol level.
He said he noticed that other people who were arrested were injured or said police had tackled them.
When Armstrong was released from jail the next day, he went to the hospital, where his arm was put in a sling after X-rays determined his shoulder and back were severely bruised and strained, he said.
Armstrong said he never saw anyone inside the Rainbow Lounge make lewd gestures at or grab the officers. He said the raid happened very quickly at the club that had just reopened.
"To me it seemed like they were trying to make a point," Armstrong said.
The Human Rights Campaign on Monday also called for an investigation into the incident. It is the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.
Burns said he also was disappointed that the raids took place on the 40th anniversary of New York City police raids on the Stonewall Inn, but police said they didn't realize it was the anniversary. The 1969 raid touched off demonstrations that helped lead to the gay rights movement in the U.S.