Rack ‘n’ Roll Billiards, R.I.P.

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

The town of Manassas Park’s relentless pursuit of an honest businessman achieved a grim victory tonight. The Rack ‘n’ Roll Pool Hall has shut its doors for good. David Ruttenberg’s mounting legal bills caused him to fall behind on his rent, and his landlord initiated eviction proceedings. You can’t really blame the landlord.

In the city’s absolute bullshit response to Ruttenberg’s brief in the appeal of his federal 1983 civil rights suit (I’ll have more on this later), the city claims Ruttenberg has been under investigation since 2001 as a suspected drug dealer. They’re either lying, or they’re grossly incompetent (I vote for both). Because after six years of “investigating,” they’ve yet to find a shred of evidence that Ruttenberg has even ingested an illicit drug, much less bought, sold, or otherwise distributed one.

Ruttenberg, on the other hand, has ample evidence that city officials, the police, and the former vice mayor have framed him; attempted to entrap him; spread lies about him, spent a ridiculous amount of taxpayer money on a futile, should-have-been illegal paramilitary raid on him and his customers; and ruthlessly and maliciously attempted to drive him out of business.

Still nothing on this from the Washington Post. Nothing from the Washington Times. Nothing from the City Paper. I realize this is a complicated story with lots of details, lots of history and lots of documentation. But come on. Isn’t telling complicated stories about public corruption the kind of thing journalists are supposed to do? Why is no one interested in this story?

As I see it, Ruttenberg’s down to his last two strikes. The first of these is the appeal of his federal suit. He needs to get past summary judgment, and the city and city officials’ immunity claims. At that point, he’ll get into discovery, and can potentially uncover all sorts of nastiness. My guess is that the city would settle rather quickly were that to happen. I hope this comes to pass. But it’s a very conservative court. And conservative judges tend to take immunity protections seriously, particularly for police officers. And immunity protections are already very difficult to overcome. That the city’s accusing (wholly without proof, of course) Ruttenberg of running a drug- and sex-laden pool hall probably doesn’t help, either. I hope the Sixth Circuit justices look past the city’s obfuscation, and take a long, hard look at this case.

His other hope is the ongoing FBI investigation. I’m not sure how the law applies in these sorts of situations, but it would be a shame if the FBI investigation did uncover corruption in Manassas Park, but the findings were released too late for Ruttenberg’s lawsuit. Remember, according to Ruttenberg, a Virgina State Police investigation already uncovered evidence of wrongdoing and recommended Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert open an investigation–and Ebert declined, without explanation.

(Note: I haven’t been able to get in touch with the state police investigator to confirm David’s account, here. But he called me the night he spoke with the investigator, and everything David has told me to date has checked out.)

Kudos to David for fighting back, and not allowing the petty people in power in Manassas Park to walk all over him. Unfortunately, it appears that for now, the city has won. David wasn’t able to keep the bar open long enough to find a buyer to help recover some of his losses. Of course, that’s in part because every time he found someone with some interest, the city scared them away.

And so Rack ‘n’ Roll went dark tonight.

More to come.

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