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.


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