TABC Clears Its Still-Fired Agents of Using Excessive Force During Rainbow Lounge Raid

Some time this morning, we should have the full copy of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's so-called "use of force" report concerning the raid on the Rainbow Lounge in late June. Till then, TABC spokesperson Carolyn Beck offers this morning a lengthy summary, in which TABC Agent Chris Aller -- who'd been to the bar two night before, spotted two men in "dressed only in thong-like underwear or bikini bottoms sitting on some picnic tables" and thought just maybe they were involved in "drug activity or lewd conduct" -- is cleared of singling out the Rainbow Lounge for being a gay bar. Says the summary, which also clears TABC Agent Trainee Jason Chapman, "The allegation that the Rainbow Lounge was targeted for being a gay bar was unfounded." Aller -- who's seen in that now-infamous photo standing over patron Chad Gibson, who was hospitalized for a week after the raid with a skull fracture -- was also cleared of using excessive force, as was Chapman

Yet TABC Administrator Alan Steen says the two men, fired in August along with Sgt. Terry Parsons, will remain fired, despite the report's findings: "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 that night. 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."

After the jump, a laundry list of changes made within TABC to address the issues raised by the fallout from the Rainbow Lounge raid; as soon as we receive the full report, we'll post accordingly. Fort Worth police are also releasing their own internal-affairs report this morning, in which the department says its officers likewise did not use excessive force and won't be fired.

TABC Rainbow Lounge Use of Force Report Complete - Agency Announces Further Operational Changes

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) has completed the use of force report related to the incident at the Fort Worth Rainbow Lounge occurring on June 28, 2009. The 74-page report takes into account statements by eyewitnesses, expert witnesses, TABC employees, and Fort Worth police officers.

The TABC internal affairs investigation report included two allegations which were both unfounded:

1. Agents Chris Aller and Jason Chapman were accused of participating in a bar check operation with Fort Worth police officers on June 28, 2009, which targeted the Rainbow Lounge specifically because of the bar's gay and lesbian customer base. The allegation that the Rainbow Lounge was targeted for being a gay bar was unfounded.

2. Agents Aller and Chapman were accused of using force beyond what was necessary and reasonable during their contact with Jose Macias, George Armstrong and Chad Gibson when they were placed under arrest at the Rainbow Lounge. The allegation of excessive force was unfounded.

Administrator Alan Steen said, "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 that night. 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."

In August, TABC announced that Agent Chris Aller, Agent Trainee Jason Chapman and Sgt. Terry Parsons were terminated for various policy and procedural violations found in the initial Rainbow Lounge investigation report. Aller and Parsons filed appeals, but Administrator Alan Steen upheld the terminations.

Steen Designates Regional Community Liaisons and Agency Liaison to the GLBT Community

Administrator Alan Steen said, "The obvious disconnect between TABC and the gay community in North Texas was a wake-up call to our agency that we need to make a more conscious effort to reach out to all of the diverse groups that we serve and to promote open lines of communication."

With that goal in mind, TABC's five regional Educational Liaisons are being re-named Community Liaisons, and will be tasked with reaching out to diverse community groups including GLBT organizations as well as associations representing racial, ethnic and religious minorities.

Steen added, "This is an obvious extension of the duties of the Educational Liaisons," who already work with industry members, parents, students and other community groups to increase understanding of alcoholic beverage laws, responsible service and consumption of alcohol, and the agency's role in keeping Texans safe.

Additionally, Steen has appointed TABC's Director of Communications and Governmental Relations as the agency's liaison to the GLBT community in an effort to improve communication around the state. Steen said, "Carolyn Beck played a key role in representing our agency to the public during some tough times this summer and immediately began making contacts in the North Texas GLBT community. As soon as the recommendation was made that we appoint a GLBT statewide liaison, she volunteered, and I think she will do a great job."

Carolyn Beck commented, "It's important that the GLBT community have a direct point of contact at TABC if they have recommendations for our agency, or concerns that they don't feel comfortable addressing with their local TABC office. I'm here to work with the community to answer questions about TABC policies or about alcoholic beverage laws, and to continue to assist the agency in moving forward in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge incident."

Executive Management Initiates Additional Operational Changes

TABC management has initiated numerous operational changes in an effort to better enhance field operations and the public trust.

TABC is hiring an Inspector to provide quality assurance monitoring for Enforcement, Compliance, Licensing and Ports of Entry. The Inspector's job will be to review processes and procedures, conduct monitoring visits, identify concerns and make recommendations to executive management.

TABC is hiring two additional internal affairs investigators, and agency policy is being revised so that all Use of Force allegations will be investigated by the internal affairs division.

TABC has initiated a review of the peace officer hiring process and minimum requirements to ensure we are matching the correct skills to our mission and purpose.

The Enforcement Policy and Procedures Manual is undergoing a complete review, and appropriate updates will be made by the end of the year. These policy changes are intended to increase supervisor oversight, improve training, and ensure equipment meets agency standards.

Additionally, the following operational improvements were announced on August 28, 2009:

Agents' and sergeants' work hours are being changed to create more agents on duty during the hours that TABC-licensed premises are operating as well as to increase the amount of supervisory oversight during the agents' work shifts.

TABC's Use of Force policy was revised effective August 4, 2009, to move from a "use of force continuum approach" to an "objectively reasonable force" model. TABC's use of force expert will coordinate future use of force training classes. Additionally, the Use of Force Report form was revised to provide TABC's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR / internal affairs) with an improved ability to collect valuable data and identify trends.

TABC is making various improvements to the agency's training program, including a review of the agent trainee field training program and a new agency regional training program.

In November 2009, agency trainers will become certified to train Verbal Judo, the industry standard de-escalation technique. Agents will be trained in 2010.

TABC has contracted with Resource Center Dallas to provide diversity training for agency employees around the state, beginning in November 2009. Resource Center Dallas will provide training in 11 cities across Texas over the next seven months.

Administrator Steen said, "Chief Joel Moreno has done a good job making rapid and positive change to field operations. Over the past three years, he has made significant improvements, and these additional changes will only add to the quality of service we provide to the State of Texas."