Thursday, March 20, 2008

Scottsdale cops play at stormtroopers

Via the Phoenix New Times (scroll down the page) comes word that police in upscale Scottsdale, Arizona, are continuously subjecting bar patrons to a dose of unwanted Eastern-bloc nostalgia.

Typically, the po-po show up on a Friday or Saturday after midnight, sometimes six to a dozen strong. They ask to speak with the owner, and inspect the joint's liquor license, employee log, fake ID log, and other records. They run through a checklist of liquor-related issues. And they prevent anyone from entering or exiting the premises. Sometimes the cops check customers' IDs, running them for warrants. ...

Most bar owners, citing fear of reprisals, would not talk to The Bird on the record.

Club Mardi Gras owner Jeffrey Chazen was the one exception. Chazen described how the bulls raided his saloon about 1 a.m. Sunday, March 9, during a performance by geezer rocker Barry "The Fish" Melton of Country Joe and the Fish fame.

"Why did they stop me from doing business and hold my people hostage?" wondered Chazen, adding, "The more I think about it, the more it rubs me the wrong way. I mean, if I held my customers for an hour, wouldn't that be kidnapping?" ...

As for the reports of customers being detained by Scottsdale cops, Clark equivocated in classic cop flack-ese.

"A typical bar check does not include the detention or seizure of any patrons," Clark claimed. "However, the officers may restrict customers from entering based on articulable officer safety concerns or in the furtherance of an investigation."

The AZ ACLU's legal director, Dan Pochoda, thinks differently.

"It's a Fourth Amendment violation of unreasonable seizure," said Pochoda. "Seizure is defined as when a person unreasonably isn't permitted to leave pursuant to the orders of law enforcement. That's exactly what's going on here."

Despite its western-individualist aspirations, Arizona is home to some truly bizarre police-state excesses -- and a population that often cheers the same. Maricopa County's Sheriff Joe Arpaio has made a hobby of egregious civil-liberties violations, including arresting members of the press who offend him. Nevertheless, his approval ratings remain north of 60%.

So Scottsdale's police department is just following local traditions.

But the Fourth Amendment, among other constitutional protections, is something of a tradition, too. That's something Scottsdale's Police Department might want to remember before it starts racking up Arpaio-sized legal settlements.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, simply amazing. Thanks for giving us the heads up on this!


March 20, 2008 1:04 PM  
Blogger BobG said...

I remember the vice cops around here doing that years ago. After talking to a couple of bar owners, I found out that the vice cops were demanding bribes from the local bars, and harassing any that did not comply.

March 20, 2008 4:37 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

So the cops were staging shakedowns? Knowing Scottsdale, I suspect there's something a little higher-level going on -- like an extra-legal effort to drive some bars that have offended city officials out of business.

March 20, 2008 4:40 PM  

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