Saturday, December 14, 2002

Rave bust creates buzz online, across nation - THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

Fans complain party-goers were ticketed for merely attending event
Last Updated: Dec. 14, 2002
Racine - Racine has become the talk of the Internet among young people around the country who enjoy going to rave parties.

Through e-mail, Web sites and Internet newsgroups, rave-goers have been sharing their outrage over the $968 citations issued to 441 people at a Nov. 2 rave party in Racine. And many are also following news stories as most of the people cited begin to fight their cases in court.

"When there's word of something like this, it spreads pretty quick," Madison, Ill., rave promoter Jeff Lofink said in an interview last week. He'd seen postings about the Racine rave bust on, and in various Internet newsgroups.

"Usually, you have to be doing something wrong to get a ticket," Lofink said, explaining why some people are upset.

His impression of Racine?

A place "where the police don't follow the laws too much, where they feel they can overstep their bounds."

The Police Department certainly has come under fire, albeit mostly from teenagers and young adults who attend rave parties. The criticism, some officials say, may be unfair.

When the Sheriff's Department raided a rave in Yorkville, it did what many law enforcement agencies have done: break up the party and write citations to the party organizers. But that rave was six or seven years ago, Sheriff William McReynolds said, before local authorities had any indication that rave parties were virtually synonymous with the illegal use of drugs, usually Ecstasy.

"I think the Police Department was looking at a whole different situation," the sheriff said.

Journal Sentinel reporters who attended a rave in April at the Alliant Energy Center of Madison found that most of the young people interviewed said they had used the drug, and some said they bought it there. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Justice indicated that emergency room personnel had seen a 500% increase in the number of patients on the drug in the six years ending in 1999.

But rave fans think it was outrageous that merely attending the Racine party resulted in getting a citation for being an "inmate of a disorderly house/controlled substances."

Pointing out that only three people at the party were arrested on drug charges, they said in interviews that they're spreading word about the Racine bust, in part, to be prepared if the tactic is used elsewhere.

"There's just this misconception that we're the only ones doing (drugs)," said Mike Phillips, 26, of suburban Washington, D.C. "I go because I like the music. You can't punish the people that are going for the right reasons because of the ones that are going (for drugs)."

Phillips and others who discuss the Racine bust and other rave issues over the Internet said they had never heard of police writing citations to party-goers. They said Racine police probably cracked down hard so that no raves would be held in the city in the future - and that the technique probably was effective.

City officials have acknowledged that they want to deter future parties, even as the city attorney's office has made plea bargains. Initially, those cited who pleaded no contest to the "inmate/controlled substances" citation were fined only $100. Then last week, the city attorney's office offered those who pleaded no contest the lower fine and a citation for disorderly conduct, with no reference to controlled substances.

But the city still faces the potentially costly prospect of having to hire a special prosecutor and pay police overtime for hundreds of trials. So far, most of the party goers have pleaded not guilty.

A final round of initial court appearances is set for Monday.

Police in Racine were suckered by the "corporate sensational media," which make it seem that every rave is rife with illegal drug use, said Jon Gibson, 23, of Vancouver, Wash. The crackdown will only create more danger, he said, because rather than being held in bars, raves will go back to being held underground.

That would be a shame, said Dave Meeker of Chicago, director of The Selekta, an organization that supports electronic music deejays, promoters and producers. As rave parties have become more public, they have increased security and searches at the door, he said.

"I don't know how many times I've seen drug dealers pushed out the door and their drugs flushed down the toilet" without police needing to intervene, Meeker said.

Others who have gotten involved in the Racine bust aren't fighting for the right to party, necessarily, but to preserve civil liberties.

"The Bill of Rights is threatened, so wherever it occurs it's a threat nationally," said Racine attorney Erik Guenther, who is representing some of the people cited.

Amy Tyler, host of a daily talk show on KTBB-AM near Houston, said she had discussed the Racine case several times because she and her listeners view the raid as a misuse of police power.

"Government has just gotten away with too much for too long, and it's time we started fighting back," Tyler said.

The raid also has caught the attention of the Milwaukee-based American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, which has been helping people with the court process, and the ACLU's National Project on Drug Policy.

Graham Boyd, the project director in Connecticut, said the ACLU may become formally involved because police are "essentially going after a kind of music. It's a culture that's under assault."

Law enforcement didn't always overreact to new music forms linked to drugs, Boyd contended, saying jazz flourished in the 1920s even though many of its fans favored marijuana.

"If you had that same kind of law enforcement as they're using today, we may have never heard of Louie Armstrong," he said.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

More ravers than not expected plead not guilty

Last Updated: Dec. 7, 2002

Racine - Unless things begin to turn around on Monday, the city's plan to settle 441 rave citation cases by cutting the fine is in trouble.

The first wave of the 441 people ticketed at a Nov. 2 rave made their initial appearance in Racine Municipal Court last week. Most of the people standing in line were waiting to plead not guilty and get another court date.
A storm of denunciation descended upon city officials after it was revealed that police had issued $968 municipal tickets to young adults attending a Nov. 2 rave, a party known for distinctive dance music and, oftentimes, illegal drug use.

Even city officials who supported the crackdown said the fine was too high.

In response, the city attorney's office offered to reduce the fine to $100 for anyone who pleaded no contest to being an "inmate of a disorderly house." But when the first wave of those ticketed made their initial appearance in Municipal Court last week, only 19 of 206 took the deal.

If that trend continues on Monday and on Dec. 16, when the rest of those cited will make their initial court appearances, the city could be facing the costly prospect of hundreds of trials - or dismissing the citations en masse.

Assistant City Attorney Scott Lewis said he won't know what will happen until after the second round of court hearings that begin Dec. 18, when people who pleaded not guilty appear for pretrial conferences.

At that time, Lewis said, he will be able to assess how strong the evidence is and decide how to proceed.

With the sheer numbers involved, "I admit I'm placed in a very difficult position here," Lewis said.

The plea bargain obviously offered a substantial fine reduction, but many of those cited said last week that they refused the deal because they had done nothing wrong. They pointed out that only three men were arrested on drug charges, but everyone at the party received the municipal citation, regardless of how long they had been at the party or other factors.

"Basically you're guilty by association and the Constitution says you can't do that," said Racine attorney Erik Guenther, who is representing some of those who were cited.

Even those who might have considered paying the $100 to be done with the case decided against the plea bargain because the citation includes a reference to controlled substances. Although a municipal citation is far less serious than a criminal charge, no one wanted to have a drug-related offense on their record, and many were girding for a fight.

"I think we'll win. Everybody I talked to is on our side," said Laura Maurer, 21, of Waukesha, who plans to enter her not-guilty plea Monday.

"I feel if everybody pleads not guilty, it will get thrown out," added Kurt Bohman, 27, who performed as "DJ Simple" at the rave and drove six hours from his Minneapolis home to plead not guilty last week. "It will clog up the court system. It already has."

Court officials had expected no more than 100 people would plead not guilty last week and were unable to immediately schedule a pretrial conference for about half of them. The hallway outside the court clerk's office was filled with those pleading not guilty, many sporting multiple body piercings and a few who brought their toddlers.

Ald. John Engel, chairman of the Common Council's Public Safety and Buildings Committee, said he agreed with offering to reduce the fines, but said it was important that police took a hard line at the rave party in order to discourage future raves. He said such parties are known for illegal drug use and illegal drugs were found at the Racine party, which was held at the Tradewinds tavern.

"Are we turning into a rigid, hard-nosed community? I don't think so," Engel said.

Engel and other city officials acknowledged that one of the aims of the crackdown was to discourage anyone from ever holding another rave in Racine. It might have worked.

"I would never come down here again," said Joseph Johnson, 25, of Milwaukee.

Daniel Kushner, 23, of Chicago, who like Johnson pleaded not guilty last week, said the popularity of raves had been on the decline, partly because of the law enforcement crackdowns, which usually result in raves being shut down and party-goers being sent home.

"The golden era of the scene has passed," he said. "They've worn us down pretty well. There's no 'us' anymore."

Friday, December 06, 2002

Wisconsin Rave Rebellion: Racine in the Hot Seat as Hundreds Demand Trial on Bogus Bust at Electronic Music Benefit Concert - WWW.STOPTHEDRUGWAR.ORG

Racine, WI, police must have thought they scored a major coup when they raided what they described as a "rave" organized by a local civic organization early in the morning of November 3. But a month after the raid went down, it is turning into a major embarrassment instead -- one that could end up digging deep into the pockets of Racine taxpayers.

It all began when Racine police infiltrated a benefit for the Uptown Theatre Group. Officers allegedly observed people making drug transactions and arrested three of them. It was their next move that sparked outrage and controversy. They then barred the doors and cited everyone in attendance -- some 445 people, some from as far away as St. Louis and Chicago -- for being present in a "disorderly house," a $968 ticket. That was too much for the Uptown Theatre Group and for most of the ticketed attendees. As they complained loudly and vigorously, the word began to spread in the electronic music community and among civil liberties groups.

By this week, groups including the Wisconsin ACLU, the national ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project and the Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund (, an affiliate of the Drug Policy Alliance, had joined forces with local attorneys and angry show-goers to start making life miserable for the city of Racine.

"We've received more than 250 complaints," said Susan Mainzer, spokeswoman for EMDEF, an organization formed to defend the electronic music scene from attacks by misguided prohibitionists. "And with reason. This was really over the line." Mainzer forwarded those complaints to the state and national ACLU, she told DRCNet.

After receiving numerous complaints, the Wisconsin ACLU investigated. "The city of Racine needs to drop those charges and apologize," said the group's lead attorney, Micabil Diaz. He said the same thing in a letter sent last week to Wright. He hasn't yet received a response, he told DRCNet.

Wright, hoping to make the hubbub go away, last week offered to reduce the fines to $100, but that wasn't good enough for the busted music fans. On Monday, as the first batch of ticketed partiers appeared for their first hearings on the charges, legal teams outside the courthouse provided them with information about their legal options and the possible consequences of their choices. At the end of the day Monday, 166 people had appeared for their hearings. Only 19 took the $100 "no contest" plea offer, while a whopping 147 people pled not guilty and demanded jury trials. Almost 300 people have yet to make an appearance, but advocates expect to see a similar percentage demanding their day in court.

"We told them about their options, but the decision to demand a trial was up to them," Diaz told DRCNet. "They refuse to take a plea," he told DRCNet. "This is a matter of principle for them."

As it should be, said local attorney Eric Guenther, who is representing the Uptown Theatre and several of those ticketed that night. "The police conduct was an outrageous violation of First Amendment rights to freedom of assembly and speech," he told DRCNet. "The police are supposed to arrest drug violators, but these people didn't do anything more than attend an electronic music concert. The police claimed there was rampant drug activity, but then why did they only arrest three people on drug charges?"

Mary Hahn of the national ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project concurred. "That was a really egregious First Amendment violation with frightening ramifications," she told DRCNet. "Are they going to ticket everybody at a jazz club if someone is using drugs?" she asked. "Those people were not committing crimes, they were doing nothing wrong."

Racine will pay a price if it attempts to prosecute these cases, said Guenther. "The city is saying it will have to hire a special prosecutor to handle the caseload, and it will have to pay huge overtime costs for police officers to testify in hundreds of trials," he said.

And that's not the only possible price. Although Guenther, who represents the Uptown Theatre, refused to comment on the possibility, press reports this week quoted theatre director Gary Newman as hinting that the group could file a civil suit against the city. He told the Racine Journal Press that the raid and arrests damaged the group's reputation and ability to raise funds for the theatre's renovation, a two-year-old project. "We have been harmed by this," Thompson said. "They (police) decided they did not want this party to happen... the police blunder may end up costing the taxpayers."

A civil suit would typically first seek injunctive relief, said Hahn, but plaintiffs could also seek damages.

And the Racine police still don't get it. "When we see probable cause to make an arrest, we do it," said police spokesman Sgt. Macemon. "The courts may disagree, but I don't think we would do anything different."

Racine taxpayers might have something to say about that when the bills start coming in.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Ravers appear in court - THE RACINE JOURNAL TIMES

Ravers appear in court
BY JEFF WILFORD, Dec. 3, 2002

RACINE -- A month ago, Ashley Hurkmans, 18, and three friends drove six hours from Escanaba, Mich., to go to a rave party in Racine. She was one of 440 people the Racine Police Department cited for being at the alleged drug party.

On Monday, Hurkmans and her dad, Tony, made the same six-hour drive to fight the ticket.

"That's all I need, a drug charge on my record," Ashley Hurkmans said.

She was one of 166 people who appeared Monday in Racine Municipal Court because of the citations issued at the Nov. 2 party. When given the choice by Municipal Court Judge Rob Weber, most chose to fight the citations instead of pleading no contest -- essentially the same as pleading guilty -- for a reduced fine.

In all, 147 pleaded innocent to being a patron at a disorderly house. They were given trial dates of Jan. 24 and Jan. 30. Only 19 people took the city's offer of a no-contest plea.

The disorderly house citations originally carried fines of $968 each, but the city lowered that to $100 for those who plead guilty or no contest to the citations.

Forty people didn't show up for their court hearing on the citations. They will be fined between $250 and $300.

People who fight their tickets and lose could be subject to the full amount of the original fine.

Monday's session in Municipal Court was the first of three scheduled for people cited at the party. People cited also will appear Dec. 9 and 16.

The Uptown Theater Group said the party was a fund-raiser for the organization. Police said it was a rave -- a techno dance party commonly associated with "club drugs" like Ecstasy and Ketamine.

In the hallway at City Hall Annex, 800 Center St., people lined up at the clerk of municipal court's window to plead innocent. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, who are helping to defend the people cited, were also there.

Joshua Haupt, 20, of Milwaukee, approached lawyer Erik Guenther in the hall outside municipal court.

"Do you have any idea how you want to plead?" Guenther asked.

"Not guilty," Haupt said. "Because I'm not guilty of anything."

Haupt, who is a student at Milwaukee School of Engineering, said he's fighting the ticket because he doesn't want a conviction to jeopardize his financial aid.

As for what he could have to pay if he loses: "I think that's a risk I'm willing to take."

James Werdeniek, 22, from Evergreen Park, Ill., also said he was willing to take that risk.

Werdeniek volunteers for a group called Dance Safe, which bills itself on its Web site as a national drug education program which promotes "health and safety within the rave and nightclub community." The Web site also states that "our information and services are directed primarily towards non-addicted, recreational drug users."

Werdeniek said he didn't see or use any drugs there. That he and so many others were cited, he said, is wrong.

"This is something that never should have happened to begin with," Werdeniek said. "And why should I put up with something on my record, something that's going to hurt me in the future, that I never should have been charged with?"

Several people who were in court Monday said they did not use any drugs at the party, nor did they see anybody else using them. Police arrested only three people on drug charges, leading some to question the fairness of citing so many people because of the actions of a few.

Police Chief Dave Spenner said police saw and found more evidence of drugs than just those three people arrested. Among the items police confiscated were pipes, marijuana and numerous pills and tablets. Police also found candy, air filtration masks, pacifiers and Vicks Vapo-Rub -- seemingly innocuous items that are popular at rave parties and common companions to the club drugs.

Spenner said drugs were obvious enough that anybody at that party should have known they were present.

"We were on-scene for about two hours. The passage and drug usage was widespread," Spenner said. "Clearly, of 440 people ... they opted to stay there.

"They were there for many hours. Many of them were glassy-eyed."

Guenther, who volunteers for the ACLU, said the police raid of the party and the citations violated partygoers' rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

"Freedom of speech includes freedom to dance, freedom of association," Guenther said. "None of the people here have been charged with doing drugs, transferring drugs. They had no way to know they'd be doing something wrong by going to this party."

Not everyone decided to fight the tickets.

"I can't afford to come up here a couple more times for it to be continued," said Gary Gehrke, 19, of Chicago. "See, I figure I already missed a day of work. That's $100."

Gehrke's friend, Josh Bjarnarson, 18, also of Chicago, agreed. But he said by pleading no contest, he was not admitting he did anything wrong.

"If I lived around here, I'd fight it in a second," Bjarnarson said. "I just can't afford the trips up here."

Tony Hurkmans, however, said he plans to fight his daughter Ashley's ticket as long as it takes.

"It's a big fiasco," Tony Hurkmans said. "I think it was originally intended to generate money for the city from the people who would just call it quits soon" and take the deal, he said.