Click here for the video.
Click here for the Ruttenbergs’ brief in responsel to the ABC charges resulting from the raid.
Here’s the story:
On June 2, 2004, police in the the Washington, D.C. exurb of Manassas Park, Virginia brought in a multi-jurisdictional narcotics tax force and officers from several surrounding cities and counties to conduct a massive, 70-90 officer SWAT raid on the Rack n’ Roll Billiards Club.
The raid took place on Ladies’ Night, a Wednesday. Though the intent of the raid was to collect evidence of drug use and drug distribution by David Ruttenberg, the club’s manager, it was conducted under the auspices of an Alcohol Beverage Control inspection. Because ABC is primarily a regulatory agency, the guise of an ABC inspection enabled the raid to take place without a search warrant.
After hours of scouring the club, searching every nook and cranny, and generally turning the place upside down, the only charges to follow against Ruttenberg were for two bottles of beer a distributor had left for sampling that weren’t clearly marked “SAMPLE.” The bar would later be charged with a few other minor offenses: one incident of serving alcohol to a minor, and with several incidents of flashing from customers during Mardi Gras.
Police arrested three people at the club on drug charges, the principal reason for the raid (though, again, the ABC facade enabled them to carry it out without a warrant). One was an undercover officer, who was of course immediately released. The other two were, by all indications, working for the police (the Ruttenberg’s brief contains the specifics as to why it’s safe to assume the arrestees were informants, one paid, and one cooperating in exchange for leniency on other charges). The paid informant was released. According to the Ruttenbergs all of the drug deals police say took place at the club were engineered by the police themselves, either through the informants or through an undercover officer (this too is laid out in the brief).
Immediately after the raid, David Ruttenberg had to make a deposit with the electric company (he was free to do so, given that the raid turned up nothing incriminating). Given that it was late at night, and that he’d just been subjected to a heavily-weaponized, highly-militarized, 70-90 member SWAT raid, he asked a local detective whom he knew personally to accompany him. The detective told him he had nothing to worry about. But Ruttenberg insisted. As the two men pulled into the parking lot to make the deposit, two squad cars appeared out of nowhere, cut the car off, and four officers emerged with their guns pointed squarely at Ruttenberg. According to Ruttenberg,when they saw the detective with him, they put their guns away, and drove off. This part of the story is hearsay, of course. But it’s validated by an angry email Neil Ruttenberg sent to the Manassas Park Chief of Police after the incident took place, vowing to hold him personally responsible for anything that might happen to his son at the hands of the police.
Prior to the raid, Rack n’ Roll Billiards had a spotless, 18-year record with ABC. David Ruttenberg has no criminal record, nor does his father Neil, who’s a partner in the club. David’s brother, and Neil’s son, is the incoming president of the Fairfax Bar Association. Neil says he had a top-secret security clearance with the U.S. government up until 2000. He has a JD from Columbia, and has been practicing law for 40 years. His daughter is a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy reserves, and served in both Gulf Wars. This isn’t a shady family. It’s difficult to see what reason police would have had to target David Ruttenberg or the bar he runs in a drug raid.
The Ruttenbergs have their theories. A couple of weeks ago, I met with them for 3 1/2 hours to hear their case. In crushing detail, they relayed to me incident after incident after incident since the night of the raid where Manassas Park police have attempted to entrap David Ruttenberg, conduct sting drug operations in his bar, and send police to harass his customers. In some cases, staff Ruttenberg hired specifically for the task of keeping drug use and drug dealing out of the bar appear to have been later (or all along) employed by police specifically to arrange for drug activity in the bar. Many of these incidents of harassment, stings, and entrapment were also captured by his bar’s surveillance system or recorded by the wire David Ruttenberg began wearing for his own defense (I’ve seen several of the videos). Ruttenberg has been told several times by area police officers that he’s the most wanted man in the county.
According to the Ruttenbergs, police have also made efforts to spread ill will about the bar. Regular patrons say police have openly told them to avoid the place, refering to it as an “open air drug market.” Of course, part of that may be because police themselves are arranging for drug activity there. In one video I’ve seen, the bar’s manager confronts two men openly snorting cocaine at a pool table. According to the Ruttenbergs, their waiter snatched the straw the men were using, and called the police. In the video, you see the police enter the bar and walk the men out (without patting them down or handcuffing them). When they switch to the outside camera, you see the police speak briefly with the men, then get into their car and drive away. The men walk off. According to the Ruttenberg’s, the bar’s staff offered police the straw as evidence, but they declined to take it.
One reason the Ruttenbergs suspect David Ruttenberg is being targeted, believe it or not, goes back a few years to a time when Ruttenberg and a Manassas Park police officer were romantically interested in the same woman. That officer apparently nursed a grudge against Ruttenberg, and is now the head of the narcotics task force that serves Manassas Park. They also suspect that once the raid failed, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to taxpayers, Manassas Park police became determined to justify the raid by continually pursuing David Ruttenberg until they could find a reason to arrest him.
There’s much, much more to this story. Unfortunately, the details are overwhelming, and I have too much going on at the moment to give them the attention that would be necessary for me to be comfortable posting them. But my impression is, the stuff in this post and in the video is only the beginning.
What seems clear to me is that a year and a half after this raid, and after continual police harassment, there hasn’t been a single criminal charge against David Ruttenberg, which is a pretty good indication that he and his father have a credible case of harassment (David Ruttenberg was charged with one count of filing a false police report in relation to a DJ who had stolen from him, but that too appears to have been a hatchet job. The prosecutor refused to go forward with the charge. This incident is also discussed in the brief). After a massive show of overwhelming force, one that needlessly terrorized everyone in the Manassas Park shopping center that night, the best police could come up with against Ruttenberg were a few minor regulatory violations.
As you’re watching the video, keep a few things in mind:
1) There are three camera angles in the video, but each is from only one perspective. You’ll see an ungodly number of cops, but remember that you’re only seeing one entrance. They apparently came from all sides at the same time.
2) Again, this raid was for an alcohol regulation inspection. There was no search warrant.
3) Again, it appears that the three criminal arrests resulting from this raid were all of men working for the police department, directly or indirectly. Though David Ruttenberg and his bar were the targets of the raid, it produced no criminal charges against him.
4) One thing I find odd: Some of the officers are wearing polos and khaki shorts. Others are in uniform. And others are wearing cammo, black ski masks, body armor, and toting assault weapons. Some come in casually. Others come in pumping shotguns. If the goal of a SWAT team is to incapacitate everyone inside, it doesn’t make much sense for the heavy-hitters to come in after the inspectors. Unless of course the sole purpose of this raid was to scare the shit out of the people in the bar, and intimidate others from coming back.
5) If that’s the case, it worked. David Ruttenberg says he hasn’t taken a paycheck since the raid, and has had to sell his home to keep the bar open. He doesn’t anticipate the bar being open much longer if things don’t improve. The guy’s a wreck, though frankly, if his side of the story is accurate, I don’t now how he’s held it together this long.
This is the first time the Ruttenberg’s have made the surveillance video available to the public. Due to a protective order requested by the police and granted by the ABC hearing officer, the names of the undercover officer, officer in charge of the raid (who had the spat with Ruttenberg over the girl), and at least one of the police informants have been redacted, and were redacted when the brief was given to me.