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Warfare on Washington

In which a routine noise complaint morphs into a small riot

The latest in a long line of 100 percent certified bummers to hit the Houston music scene has, in some ways, topped them all. At least when Cactus and the Gallant Knight closed, no teenage kids got Tasered.

For all three readers of this column who don't know what I'm talking about, last Friday a routine noise complaint at the Two Gallants show at Walter's on Washington escalated into a frightening fracas. At least three people were Tasered, and at least three others (including Two Gallants drummer Tyson Vogel) were arrested.

As always in these types of situations, there are multiple stories here. Here's the official party line from H.P.D.: In a report in the Houston Chronicle, police spokesman Sgt. Nate McDuell said that officer G.M. Rodriguez "approached management about the noise complaint, filed by a neighbor, and the volume was turned down -- but that as the officer was leaving, the volume went back up." At that point, Rodriguez took the stage himself and confronted Two Gallants singer Adam Stephens, who used what the police term "a sexual obscenity" and refused to comply. At that point, the police say, Rodriguez forced Stephens to the ground and attempted to arrest him. A melee broke out -- Vogel came to Stephens's aid, and several of the clubgoers and members of the other bands on the bill swarmed the stage. Rodriguez says that he thought someone was trying to steal his sidearm. The officer called for back-up and pulled out his Taser, and set it for "dry stuns," which are used for "close quarters combat." Three people were then Tasered, including a 14-year-old boy (who ended up in convulsions and foaming at the mouth), his father and a University of Houston student. A 90-year-old bass belonging to opening band Langhorne Slim was snapped in half when a clubber was thrown against it by Rodriguez.

Calling for back-up after the situation has already gotten ugly.
www.twogallants.com
Calling for back-up after the situation has already gotten ugly.

McDuell sees nothing wrong with this scenario. "An officer gets attacked by dozens of people in a club who have been drinking," McDuell said. "If anything, the officer was abused." (Yeah, tell that to the 14-year-old frothing at the mouth in convulsions.)

Not surprisingly, those in the club tell a different story. First, there is some doubt as to whether or not Rodriguez approached management. Walter's owner Pam Robinson -- who wasn't there when the fiasco occurred, but arrived shortly thereafter -- denies vehemently that he did so, at least not in any meaningful way. "I've talked to all my employees about this, and they said this is what happened. My sister Dee was working the door and he [Rodriguez] walked up. She asked him if she could help him. He said 'Yeah, turn this shit off,' and just kept walking up to the stage. Dee told [Walter's sound man] Perry, and he had already turned the PA off by the time he got to the stage."

According to most witnesses, Rodriguez's manner was ber-aggressive, even before his confrontation with Stephens began. Two Gallants fan Ingrid Norbergs said that that there was something weirdly combative about the way Rodriguez was shining his flashlight in Stephens's face and following him around on the stage. (Stephens had his back to the audience at first and was taken by surprise when Rodriguez took the stage.) As for the verbal confrontation that led to Stephens's take-down, some said that Stephens merely asked the officer why he was on stage, while others have said that Stephens told the officer to "fuck off" and to "suck my dick and get off the stage."

Stephens denied saying that. "I might have asked him what the fuck he was doing on the stage, but I never said the other stuff." Susan Betterman, another clubber that night, says that she couldn't hear what was said, but that Stephens's manner seemed more surprised and confused than confrontational. Norbergs believes that harsh words were exchanged. "Things were pretty animated," she says. "I don't doubt that he might have said something inappropriate," but she hastens to add that she didn't hear exactly what was said either. And keep in mind, Stephens had no idea why Rodriguez was on the stage, or even if he was a real cop for that matter. (Stephens's band is from San Francisco, and he has no reason to know what a real HPD cop wears. For all he knew, Rodriguez could have been a security guard or some deranged freak practicing for Halloween.)

And then all hell broke loose. I'll spare you the details -- after all, thanks to the Internet, camera phones and MySpace and YouTube, you can see for yourself (http://blog.myspace.com/dsharber). Who looks like the aggressor in that footage -- the cop or the clubbers? Is there more evidence to support the belief that this cop was charging around Walter's like a bull in a china shop, or that he was desperately fighting off a horde of deranged Satanic rock and rollers who wanted to fricassee his spleen?

In the aftermath, Stephens eluded arrest -- he says he ran from the club, fearing for his life, for blocks into the Houston night. Friends later told him the HPD helicopter was training its spotlight on Washington Avenue, looking for him, but he was rescued by local fans and taken to a nearby hotel, where Robinson had gotten him a room. Vogel was not so lucky. He spent the night in jail with some members of the other bands and crews. He was told at the scene that he was arrested "for what his buddy did," and even now he's not sure what he was charged with. He thinks it might be misdemeanor obstruction of justice, but he said someone at the jail told him he was in for "nothing."

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