Friday, January 17, 2003

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."


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