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.


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