Saturday, January 18, 2003

Citations given at rave dismissed - MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

Those who had paid fines will get money back
Last Updated: Jan. 18, 2003

Racine - The City of Racine agreed last week to dismiss citations against 440 rave-goers while insisting that its crackdown still would discourage future parties where illegal drug use might occur.

But under a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, which had threatened to sue over the citations, the city agreed that it will police such gatherings differently in the future. And one civil rights attorney said the mass dismissals means other communities should be wary of how they use their police power.

"There's a message to police that they better be careful before they go in and do things (at public gatherings), just not go in and do a sweep," Milwaukee attorney Michael Sperling said.

The city's two-month legal battle with the hundreds of teens and young adults who demanded Municipal Court trials ultimately ended when city attorneys concluded they couldn't prove that each party-goer knew that illegal drug activity was occurring during the Nov. 2 party.

Out of fairness, Assistant City Attorney Scott Lewis said, even rave attendees who pleaded no contest and paid a fine will get their citations dismissed and their money back.

The city also will expunge records so that no one will have a record of having been ticketed, he said.

But how the result of the crackdown might affect raves here and in other communities remains in debate.

Crystal Sheets, 20, a Kansasville resident who was ticketed, said she believes that Racine police would crack down on another rave, and that despite the ticket dismissals other communities would do the same.

"They'll find a way to bust other kids. They may not take the same approach, but they'll find a way," she said.

Racine Police Chief David Spenner said in a statement Thursday to his officers that he was disappointed with the dismissals. And visitors to Racine, he added, must understand that "this situation does not slow police resolve to keep this community free of illegal drug use."

The Racine citations started a buzz on the Internet partly because of the size of the original fines and because it was the first time anyone had heard of authorities going after rave attendees rather than the organizers of the party.

The rave, a type of party distinguished by electronic music and often associated with illegal drug use, was held at a bar near downtown.

Police descended on it after getting a tip that illegal drugs would be there and after undercover officers reportedly observed illegal drugs.

Police reasoned that the drug activity was apparent to everyone at the party; virtually anyone who could be detained was ticketed under the city's "inmate of a disorderly house ordinance/controlled substances" ordinance.

Lewis, the city attorney, moved quickly to defuse the situation, first offering to reduce the fine to $100 and then to remove any reference to drugs from the citation.

But the vast majority of party-goers refused the plea bargains and demanded Municipal Court trials, a potentially costly prospect for the city, given the need for officers to testify. More important, city attorneys ultimately concluded it was impossible to determine which people at the party knew illegal activities were going on.

The city's hand also was forced by the threat from the ACLU, which represented most of the party-goers and contended that the citations violated the attendees' constitutional right to association.

"I think that will send a strong message to other cities in the state and perhaps in the country that the constitutional rights of individuals trump any concern about possible drug use," said Racine attorney Erik Guenther, who assisted the ACLU.

Lewis said city officials still believe they were successful in deterring future parties where illegal drug use might occur.

"The Racine Police Department is not going to tolerate usage of illegal drugs. I think people know that now," he said.

Three people at the party were arrested on drug charges, which have not been dropped. And many party-goers said that although some people come to raves for Ecstasy or other drugs, most just enjoy the music.

Mike Phillips, 26, a suburban Baltimore resident who followed the Racine cases on the Internet, said the Racine party was held in a tavern - a big change from the early-day "underground" raves when illegal drugs were more common.

Friday, January 17, 2003

Racine Caves Before the Ravers - WWW.STOPTHEDRUGWAR.ORG

The city of Racine, WI, has dropped all charges against more than 400 people slapped with $968 tickets for "inhabiting a disorderly house" at an electronic music benefit concert there in November ( City prosecutors admitted they couldn't prove their case and agreed to dismiss all of the citations. Persons who earlier pleaded guilty or no contest to receive a reduced fine will also get their money back.

The agreement, reached between the city and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, promises the city only that the ACLU will now not sue. The city also agreed to change its policies on policing raves and to erase all records indicating that the citations had ever been written. The news came late Thursday night, too late for DRCNet to seek comment.

Police had also arrested three people on drug charges at the concert held to benefit a local community theater group, but also outraged ravers and civil libertarians across the country by ticketing the hundreds of other attendees.

Faced with a strong and largely unified resistance from those ticketed, Racine prosecutors offered early on to drop the fines to $100 in return for guilty pleas. That didn't work. Neither did the offer to remove any mention of drugs from the charges. Most of the ticketed ravers pleaded not guilty and demanded trials, a move that would cost the city untold dollars in legal expenses and untold hours of police time as officers would be called to testify.

Last week, the city blinked for a third time. During a status conference before the court, Racine prosecutors and attorneys representing the electronic music fans agreed to cancel court appearances set for the following today and enter into negotiations to resolve the matter. According to Racine attorney Erik Guenther, who is volunteering with the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, he and Racine officials were seeking an "amicable resolution" of the matter. Negotiations were ongoing, Guenther told DRCNet, but he declined to provide details. In the meantime, "individual pretrials set for January 10 have been cancelled, as have all other appearances," Guenther said. "We are now able to also instruct those people who have pled guilty or no contest, but have not paid their fines, not to do so for the time being."

Or ever, now that Racine has backed down.

City dismisses all rave charges - THE RACINE JOURNAL TIMES

BY JEFF WILFORD, Jan. 17, 2003

RACINE -- Faced with a threatened class action civil rights lawsuit, the city has agreed to dismiss all 442 citations issued at a dance party in early November.

The city will also refund the money of people who pleaded guilty or no contest and paid fines, and will dismiss those citations as well, Assistant City Attorney Scott Lewis said in Municipal Court Thursday.

He said the citations will be expunged from recipients' records, meaning it will be as if the citations never happened.

The city will also revise the "disorderly house" ordinance that police used to issue the citations, and will take steps to ensure such mass citations are not issued again.

In return, the American Civil Liberties Union will not sue the city, as it had been prepared to do.

Lewis said his office decided it would be impossible to prove that each of the hundreds of people cited knew there were drugs present.

Raves are high-energy electronic music concerts where disc jockeys usually play the music. Drugs like Ecstasy and Ketamine are popular at raves, said Municipal Court Judge Rob Weber, as are glow sticks, which people on the drugs find fascinating, and pacifiers, which prevent people on Ecstasy from grinding their teeth.

Even so, people aren't breaking the law simply by attending a rave. The disc jockeys often have loyal fan followings, like bands do. Also, glow sticks and pacifiers are legal, and their mere presence is not proof of a rave.

"Individuals who attend rave parties ... have certain constitutional rights," Weber said.

The settlement brings to a close a case that stemmed from a controversial police raid of a rave being held at the Tradewinds Village late Nov. 2 and early Nov. 3. Police found drugs at the party and arrested three people on drug charges, but they also cited each and every person at the party for being "inmates of a disorderly house" where drugs were present. Police issued 442 citations that night.

The ACLU, which represented most of the people cited, argued the tickets violated their constitutional rights to free speech and free assembly. Furthermore, many of those at the rave, when interviewed by The Journal Times, claimed that they had either just gotten there when the police arrived, or didn't know that people were using drugs there.

Whether they knew drugs were present turned out to be a key issue in the city's decision to dismiss the citations. The ordinance targets people who "knowingly" are at a place where drugs are present.

The Racine raid marked the first time police issued citations to all patrons of a rave. In other cases around the country, police arrested or cited business owners who host raves, said Micabil Diaz, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.

The ordinances police used are decades-old ordinances, designed to break up illegal gambling houses and houses of prostitution. They were not specifically designed to combat raves.

"At the time of the event, the police officers believed they were appropriately applying the city's ordinance," Lewis said, "but upon additional legal research and investigation, it was determined that the ordinance needs revision."

Lewis would not say what changes might be made to the ordinance. The city attorney's office will work with the Racine City Council to decide that.

The tickets given at the party originally carried a $968 fine for each person. The city knocked that down to $100 to entice people into pleaded guilty or no contest, thus avoiding the need to conduct hundreds of municipal trials.

When that didn't work, the city reduced the citation to disorderly conduct. When that didn't work, the city offered to expunge the original citation, and its drug references, from people's records forever.

Even so, few people accepted the deals. The majority of people cited chose to fight it out in court.

The city and the ACLU started negotiating a settlement in mid-December, and had most of the pieces in place by the beginning of January, Diaz said. They finalized the deal Thursday morning, then took it to the judge.

Racine Police Chief Dave Spenner spoke to his officers about the citations being dropped Thursday and released a statement to the public.

"The safety of this community is paramount in the eyes of city of Racine police officers," Spenner said. "I am disappointed we did not have the opportunity to present this case in court in front of Municipal Judge Weber, but will support the decision made by the city attorney.

"This situation does not slow police resolve to keep this community free of illegal drug use, and we will continue to faithfully discharge the responsibilities we have. It is our mission to keep neighborhoods safe and not expose one person to the risks of another's impaired judgment or driving ability."

Thursday, January 16, 2003

After ACLU Action, Police Dismiss Citations Against Hundreds of Electronic Music Concertgoers in Wisconsin - WWW.ACLU.ORG

January 16, 2003


MILWAUKEE -- The City of Racine today agreed to drop all charges against 442 people who were ticketed at a benefit electronic music concert simply for being in proximity to a drug arrest on the premises -- a prosecution the American Civil Liberties Union called a first in the "war on drugs."

"The ACLU urges the City of Racine to respect the First Amendment rights of electronic music attendees in the future," said Micabil Diaz, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, which represented the concertgoers. "We also applaud the hundreds of attendees who defended their constitutional rights. The ACLU will continue to remain vigilant in the defense of the rights of individuals to exercise their freedom to attend and perform in electronic music events.

Graham Boyd, Director of the national ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project, said the raid marked a first in the so-called war on drugs. "Recently, the ACLU successfully challenged the arrest of innocent business owners simply for promoting electronic music concerts, but this is the first time that an audience was targeted. We sincerely hope it will be the last. However," he noted, "with the reintroduction in Congress of an anti-Rave bill that targets music promoters, we are likely to see more, not fewer, unconstitutional attempts at prosecution of innocent people."

"Electronic music concerts are a legitimate cultural event just like rock concerts, art exhibitions and film screenings, and are an important outlet for youth culture today," Boyd said. "This kind of raid is tantamount to targeting rock concerts in the 1960s or jazz clubs in the 1920s because some people were using drugs or drinking liquor."

Last November, the Racine police raided an electronic music concert held by the Uptown Theater Group, Inc. to aid its efforts to restore an historic landmark theater in downtown Racine. The police department had claimed that the mere presence of these concertgoers in a location in which four persons were arrested on drug charges violated the city’s "inmates of a disorderly house" ordinance. The citations were originally issued with fines of $968 each.

The ACLU of Wisconsin, with the assistance of volunteer attorney Erik R. Guenther, an associate in the Racine firm of Hostak, Henzl & Bichler, S.C., challenged the citations. The ACLU charged that ordinance violated the First Amendment right to freedom of association since it was imposed on individuals whose only actions were peaceably assembling to hear electronic music.

"The ACLU and I welcome the city's decision to dismiss these citations, and their commitment to amend this ordinance to ensure that an incident like this does not occur again," said Guenther. "The city's decision to provide guidelines to police officers in future enforcement of this ordinance will help ensure that the Constitutional rights of attendees and performers at electronic music events are respected in the future."

The ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project and volunteer attorney James Shellows of Milwaukee provided additional support in this matter.

For more information on the government’s war on raves, go to

Sunday, January 12, 2003


Racine - Court proceedings for hundreds of people who were ticketed and accused of attending a rave party here have been canceled while attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and the City of Racine hold negotiations, an attorney working with the ACLU said Friday.

Racine attorney Erik Guenther, who is volunteering with the Milwaukee-based American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, would not say whether the negotiations are aimed at reaching a settlement involving all of the cases still pending. But the city has been attempting to resolve the cases with various plea-bargain offers, which have been rejected by most of the people who were issued citations.

The resistance of the rave-goers has left the city facing the potentially costly prospect of holding hundreds of Municipal Court trials.

About 75 people had been scheduled to meet with city prosecutors Friday in Municipal Court to discuss their cases. But those proceedings as well as court trials, which had been scheduled to start Jan. 28, have been canceled for the time being.

Guenther said any rave-goers who have pleaded not guilty will be notified if any proceedings are rescheduled.

Guenther also said people who had pleaded no contest but not yet paid a fine should not pay the fine and should await further instructions.

Police issued $968 citations to more than 440 people who attended the Nov. 2 party at a bar, which had been billed as a fund-raiser for the Uptown Theatre. The citations were for being an inmate of a disorderly house. Police had said drug activity was obvious to all attendees, but only three people were arrested on drug charges.

The Racine City Attorney's Office offered to reduce the fines to $100, but most of the people cited pleaded not guilty and demanded trials. The City Attorney's Office could not be reached Friday for comment.

Municipal Court Clerk Michelle Bellaire said that precise tallies had not been done, but that most of the rave-goers ticketed had pleaded not guilty and demanded a trial before a Municipal Court judge.

Bellaire said 62 people pleaded no contest in court to an amended citation for disorderly conduct. Unlike the original citation, which mentioned controlled substances, the amended citation has no reference to drugs. But the actual number of people who pleaded no contest might be higher because some changed their pleas by mail, Bellaire said.