Thursday , July 25 2024

The “Racine 441” Appear in Court

Shortly after midnight on November 3, the Racine, Wisconsin police raided a non-profit fundraiser featuring electronic music and cited 441 people in the “techno room” for being “inmates of a disorderly house with narcotics,” for which they could be fined up to $968. Many appeared in court yesterday:

    Defiance was in the air Monday as most of the people who received $968 citations for attending a rave party in Racine rejected an offer to settle their cases for $100.

    The dozens of not-guilty pleas filed Monday mean the city might have to hire a special prosecutor to handle potentially hundreds of Municipal Court trials.

    Police had issued the “inmate of a disorderly house/controlled substances” citations to 441 people after breaking up the rave at a bar on Nov. 2. They also arrested three men on drug charges.

    The Racine city attorney’s office then offered to reduce the fine to $100 for anyone who pleaded no contest to the municipal citation.

    But on Monday, when 206 of the young adults were scheduled to make their initial court appearance, only 19 pleaded no contest, were found guilty and paid the $100; 40 did not appear and were found guilty by default. That left 147, or more than 70%, who pleaded not guilty and demanded a trial. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

More from the Racine Journal:

    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.

Sounds like jumpng to conclusions and gross overreaction on the part of the police.

The Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund is on the case:

    Chicago DanceSafe representative James Werdeniuk is thrown onto a pool table and arrested for standing up. After police raided the building, detainees were forced to sit on the ground for almost four hours while police issued citations. James has a metal rod in his leg and can not sit for long periods of time.

DanceSafe is indignant:

    DanceSafe, a national drug education program, today condemned the Saturday night police raid of a rave at the Tradewinds banquet hall in Racine, WI. Police, tipped off by US Customs officials, raided the event and ticketed 445 attendees and arrested only 3 people.

    “While Detective Prudy called this action ‘proactive law enforcement’, we see the raid as an attack on the First Amendment rights of those present to peaceably assemble.”, said Tim Santamour, DanceSafe’s Executive Director. “The police had no prior knowledge that drugs were being used at the event before they infiltrated the party. They assumed that since, in their minds, drugs are typically associated with raves that there was illegal activity at this one. They had no proof and entered the premises under false pretext.”, commented Santamour, “The fact that police only arrested 3 out of almost 500 attendees proves that drugs were not being used by the vast majority of ravers at this event.”

    DanceSafe also condemns the attitudes of law enforcement against attendees of electronic music events. “Local law enforcement agencies have been prejudiced by the DEA’s actions and by proposed federal legislation, such as Sen. Joseph Biden’s proposed R.A.V.E. Act”, said Bryan Oley, a DanceSafe board member. Provisions of the R.A.V.E. Act (Reducing America’s Vulnerability to Ecstasy) would punish anyone associated with a music event at which someone was using an illegal substance such as Ecstasy or marijuana. “The war on drugs has been a failure, yet police insist on ruining the lives of thousands”, added Oley. “The government should be focusing on education and treatment, not incarceration.”

    ….DanceSafe is a drug education program with groups in over 20 cities. DanceSafe provides youth with information about drug use by distributing material at raves and nightclubs. “People are very receptive to our literature” commented Jamie Smidt, DanceSafe’s National Training Coordinator. “DanceSafe volunteers come from the rave community. They see drug use at events and want to do something positive to reduce the harms of drug use.” DanceSafe not only provides harm reduction materials concerning drugs, “we provide people with a sense of community where they can ask questions they might not ask their parents or teachers.”, said Smidt, “We also provide them tips on avoiding heatstroke, hearing loss, and sexual assault.”

In a letter to the City Attorney, the ACLU has demanded that the charges be dropped:

    We have received many complaints regarding the blanket ticketing of hundreds of attendees of a non-profit fundraising event featuring electronic music on the night of November 2, 2002, at the Tradewinds Banquet Hall. The application of Racine Municipal Code §§ 66-346, 66-347 to individuals whose only actions were their innocent performance of electronic music or their peaceable assembly for the purpose of expressive association violates the First Amendment. In addition, the classification of this musical venue as a “disorderly house,” where only a nominal amount of drug activity occurred, contravenes the fair notice requirement of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

    To be found in violation of § 66-347, an individual must “knowingly” patronize a disorderly house. A disorderly house is defined as a place “which is used for the purpose of unlawfully selling, serving, storing, keeping or giving away controlled substances.” Racine Municipal Code § 66-346 (emphasis added). The purpose of this event was in no way related to drug activity nor were any of the ticketed individuals accused of providing drugs, assisting those who provided drugs, or being involved with drugs in any way whatsoever. Rather, the event was held to raise funds for the non-profit organization, the Uptown Theater Group, Inc., and its efforts to restore a historic landmark located in downtown Racine. Not only did the advertisements for the event include notice that attendees would be subject to search and that drugs would not permitted inside, the Uptown Theater Group also sought to hire members of the Racine Police Department to act as security during the concert, as they had previously done for several other events. Moreover, despite a massive police raid and the forcible seizure of hundreds of individuals inside the hall, only a small number of persons were arrested on drug-related charges.

    Based on the reports we have received, we have a substantial foundation for believing that the City of Racine impermissibly restricted the attendees’ rights of expression and association through electronic music. Electronic music concerts provide a critical arena for artistic expression for the hired performers and audience members. The First Amendment stands as a clear barrier to any governmental effort to silence musical artists and to prevent their audience from participating in expressive association with them. Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 790 (1989); Young v. Am. Mini Theatres, 427 U.S. 50, 77 (1976) (Powell, J., concurring) (stating that central to the performer’s right to speak, is that there be a “free flow from creator to audience of whatever message” the speaker seeks to convey). In addition, the First Amendment safeguards the rights of individuals to peaceably assemble and associate for expressive purposes without restriction by the government. Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, 539-40 (1945). Penalizing the performers and attendees of the concert with a nearly one thousand dollar ticket in a manner that burdens their exercise of their rights of assembly, association and speech squarely contravenes the First Amendment.

    Moreover, the application of this ordinance to these individuals violates due process. Due process requires that a statute “provide a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly.” Village of Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates, Inc., 455 U.S. 489, 498-99 (1982). Where First Amendment concerns are implicated, as they are here, the requirement of clarity is most stringent. Id. at 499. Given that the ticketed attendees could not have foreseen that their presence at a musical concert with nominal drug activity that was not openly conducted violated the ordinance, we believe that the decision to ticket them violates the due process clause. Innocent bystanders cannot be transformed into patrons of a disorderly house by their mere presence in a room where drugs are found.

    In the interest of resolving this matter quickly and avoiding a tremendous waste of public resources in pursuing these meritless actions, we urge your office to dismiss all charges under the “disorderly house” ordinance against the disc jockeys and attendees. Please respond to this letter by Friday, November 29, 2002, to let us know what actions you plan to take in order to resolve the serious allegations raised by this letter.

Think what you want about the ACLU, but if you are in trouble and no one else will help, they are your best friends in the world.

See, we have rules of procedure that all parties – including the police – are supposed to follow. When they don’t, even if the cause is unpopular, the ACLU will stand by you. This role should not to be scoffed at, nor its importance underestimated.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted,, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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