One Party, One Cop Platoon
Ira Rihel, left, crosses safely with Darth Vato band members Kerry Dean, Steve Steward, and Eric Dodson.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A TCU family says police turned a noise complaint into a major hassle.
By DAN MALONE
Mix 100 or so people in their early 20s, several kegs of beer, vodka punch, a mischievous musical trio, and a late-night, end-of-summer party in a residential neighborhood across from a middle school — you know how that story’s gonna end.
Sure enough, someone did call the cops, but the party-goers say what happened next shows that it was the Fort Worth cops who were out of control on a recent Saturday night, not the beer-drinking TCU students and their friends.
“They [police] were overstepping their bounds,” complained Linda Rihel, whose son, Ira, threw the Aug. 20 bash. “If all the kids had not kept their cool, it could have been a really bad deal.”
The officers “were way out of hand,” said Ira Rihel, a 22-year-old TCU junior majoring in interior design. “It was kinda crazy that night.”
Fort Worth police say they were merely responding to citizen complaints about the music — and invited Rihel and his friends to file a complaint with internal affairs if they think the officers over-reacted.
“The initial indication is that the officers’ response to numerous loud music complaints is consistent with our department’s policy,’’ said police spokesman Lt. Dean Sullivan.
The Rihels took the police up on their offer and filed a complaint this week. In response, the cops asked to see a videotape Ira made of an officer threatening to arrest him. The tape, though a bit fuzzy, does show an officer telling Ira that if he “stands on a sidewalk and obstructs it, then you’re causing a problem, and I’m gonna put you in jail for that also.’’
Rihel and his friends had hired Darth Vato, a Fort Worth band that mixes reggae, ska, and punk, to perform. The group was into its first set around 11:30 p.m. in Ira’s backyard when the police rolled up, saying a neighbor had phoned in a noise complaint.
“We told the band to ‘stop playing. The cops have come. It’s not worth it,’” Ira said. The next thing anyone knew, he said, the police were writing Vato’s lead singer, Kerry Dean, a ticket for obstructing a private drive.
“That would be my driveway,” Ira explained. “He had my permission to park there. He was loading.”
Dean thought that if he left, that would satisfy the cops, but that apparently wasn’t the case.
“We were the noise complaint, and we were trying to leave,” Dean explained. “I was getting in my car, and the police officer said, ‘Sir, get away from your car.’” Then, the musician said, the first policeman instructed a second police officer to write him up for obstructing a private driveway. “And if it’s not moved, I’m going to tow it,” Dean said the officer told him.
By now Dean was completely baffled. If the officer had allowed him to leave, not only would there have been no loud band, there also would have been no vehicle obstructing a driveway and needing to be towed.
About the same time, Ira and others said, the police started talking about towing the vehicles parked in the Daggett Middle School lot and summoned tow trucks. When Ira’s guests found out what was happening, they left the party and started walking across the street to move their cars.
Linda Rihel asked one of her son’s friends, Toni Lyn Perez, a 21-year-old kinesiology student who hopes to become a physical therapist, to walk over to the parking lot and get the officers’ names and badge numbers.
The first uniform Perez spoke with was decent enough. The second one was all law and order. “I’m sorry to bother you,” Perez recalled saying. “Can I get your badge number and name?” She asked him to repeat it, and he responded loudly and slowly, and then, she said, he told her: “Now get off the property because you’re trespassing, or I’ll take you to jail.”
“I can’t believe an officer would make a threat like that to a girl, or woman, for just asking his name,” Perez said in an interview last week.
The night got even crazier. The Rihels and Perez said police ticketed one car for being parked more than 18 inches from the curb and wrote tickets to people for jaywalking when they crossed the street to move their cars.
“It got to the point where we could not stand on the sidewalk because we were ‘obstructing justice,’” Perez said. “One guy walked up and returned to his car, and the cops gave him a ticket for jaywalking.”
Perez was helping Ira throw the party, and they had asked his parents, who live in the house behind Ira’s, to attend. Ira’s father, John Rihel, a bail bondsman, jumped into the mix about this time.
The police “were OK when they first came up,” he said. Then, they “said they were going to start towing cars. They started getting kinda shitty with us.” John asked one of the officers, “Why are you being such an asshole?” The cop threatened him as well: “‘If you don’t get off this property, I’m going to arrest you,’” John Rihel recalled him saying. The property in question was a public school parking lot.
“There was no reason for it,” Rihel said. “It’s school property. It’s public property. There’s nothing posted, no tow-away zone, nothing.”
Rihel, who has dealt with lots of cops while bounty hunting with his private investigator, said he’s a law-and-order guy himself.
“I’ve been a citizen patrol guy for years. We’ve patrolled these neighborhoods for years,” he said. Now, he said. “I’ve lost all respect for these men in blue in Fort Worth, after what these guys pulled.”
One of the police officers told Ira that he had spoken with the Daggett principal and received permission to tow the partiers’ cars. So on the Monday following the party, Ira walked across the street and asked to speak with principal Rhonda Fields. She told him she hadn’t even been in town that night, he said.
Fields did not return a call from Fort Worth Weekly, but Fort Worth school district spokeswoman Valerie Robertson confirmed that Fields indeed was out of town. “The police did not call her. She was in South Padre,” Robertson said. Further, Robertson said, Fields didn’t care if Ira’s friends park in the school lot. “She’s not had any issues about that,” Robertson said. “There’s an adult soccer team that comes up and plays and parks in it. She doesn’t have a problem with it.”
But one of Fields’ underlings apparently did have a problem with it. After the calls for loud music came in, police said, they received another call from a security guard at the school. The guard told police that the school’s vice principal had authorized the cars to be towed. Police also said they saw one person recycling his beer on school property, but he zipped up and ran away before the police could catch him.
Altogether, police say they towed five cars and issued about a dozen traffic and parking citations. There may, however, be even more than that. Police this week could find no record of the citation that Dean said he received.
Ira estimated that 60 to 100 people attended his party. Police put the number at 300. For a college beer bash, oddly, there were no arrests for public intoxication.
Dean doesn’t usually review his own band’s shows, but he made an exception for Rihel’s party.
“That show sucked ass,’’ the band’s web site reported. “We played a house party last night, and the cops busted up our fun. It’s too bad because there were about five kegs left that were untouched, and we got to play only one set.”
You can reach Dan Malone at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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