Saturday, March 08, 2003

Claims filed over raid at November party - THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

Group says event wasn't a rave, reputation hurt
Last Updated: March 8, 2003

Racine - A November event widely regarded as a rave was actually a fund-raising party, and when police raided it they damaged a Racine theater group's reputation and violated a Milwaukee party-goer's civil rights, according to claim notices filed with the city.

The two notices allow claims seeking monetary damages to be filed with the city. They also are required before filing any lawsuit for money lost as a result of the raid, although a lawsuit over alleged civil rights violations could be filed at any time.

Assistant City Attorney Scott Lewis, who negotiated a deal that led to the dismissal of all of the more than 440 police citations issued at the party, declined to comment last week on the notices.

The Uptown Theatre Group, which is seeking to restore the little-used Majestic Theatre in Racine, says in its claim that the Nov. 2 party had been advertised as an electronic music event with deejays that was intended to raise money to help restore the Majestic. The event was moved to the nearby Tradewinds Village bar after police told organizers they lacked a dance hall permit, the notice says.

Police, saying they had received a tip from U.S. Customs officials about illegal drugs often associated with rave parties, raided the event and issued more than 440 citations, for $968 each, under the city's inmate of a disorderly house/controlled substances ordinance. In addition, three men were arrested on drug charges.

Under threat of a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, the city dropped all of the citations and reimbursed party-goers who had pleaded no contest and paid a reduced fine of $100.

The citations damaged the reputation of Uptown Theatre Group because they "led to a presumption that this was a drug house," said the group's attorney, Erik Guenther of Racine.

Jason Witheril, 20, of the 4600 block of S. 1st St. in Milwaukee, said in his claim that he was forced to lie face down on the bar floor with a gun pointed to his head for 10 minutes and that he was detained at the bar for three hours and another three hours at the Racine County Jail.

Guenther said many party-goers, including those who drove hours from other states, attended because electronic music has such wide popularity.

Electronic music also has been associated with raves, which typically are large-scale gatherings that according to police often include Ecstacy and other illegal drugs.

Electronic music fans say they have been unfairly linked with raves.

This story was published Friday in the Journal Sentinel and is reprinted here for Sunday-only subscribers.


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