Category: Rack n’ Roll Billiards

More from Manassas Park

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

Greg L. has also has a good post up this morning about the Rack ‘n’ Roll case. He spoke with one of the people who have recently attempted to buy Ruttenberg’s club. The woman speaks of some strange interactions she had with Manassas Park city officials when they learned of her interest in the pool hall.

This of course is directly related to the city of Manassas Park’s strange and secretive “settlement offer” Greg and I reported on several months ago. If you’ll remember, the city offered to “let” Ruttenberg sell his club and to give him “peace,” if he promised to drop the city officials from his federal lawsuit and stop the “Internet and media attacks.” He didn’t have to drop his lawsuit against the city itself, mind you. Manassas Park taxpayers would still be on the hook for the malfeasance of their public servants. No, the settlement offer was an attempt only to save the individuals named in Ruttenberg’s suit.

To his credit, Ruttenberg refused.

Back to Manassas Park: The Arrest of David Ruttenberg

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

I’ve written before that one of several reasons why I’ve come to believe David Ruttenberg is that after all of the entrapment, undercover operations, and harassment he has endured at the hands of the Manassas Park Police Department, the guy to this point has never been charged with a crime (the other reason I believe him is that to this point, everything he’s told me that could be checked out, has checked out).

The never-charged-with-a-crime stuff, though, is not entirely true. Ruttenberg was arrested once, in 2002. But not for drugs, child pornography, or any of the other stuff Manassas Park city officials have accused him of, either officially or via rumor and innuendo. Ruttenberg was actually charged with filing a false police report. The details of that arrest constitute yet another incident of harassment of Ruttenberg at the hands of local authorities. Here’s the story:

On December 28, 2001, David Ruttenberg decided to fire a guy named Rick Potter, a deejay who had been working at Rack ‘n’ Roll. David had noticed that Potter may have been coming to work high. He then began hearing rumors from customers and other employees that Potter was dealing ecstasy from the club. So he fired him.

Potter came into work the next day, on December 29, and learned of his termination. Angry, he ran to the back of the club, yanked a mixing board out of the deejay booth, and darted out of the club with it. It wasn’t his mixing board. It belonged to a another deejay at the club, a guy named Christian Gates.

Ruttenberg immediately called the police to report the theft. Gates signed an affidavit attesting that the mixing board was his property, and that he had never given Potter permission to take it. Potter was arrested, and charged with grand larceny.

At Potter’s trial, his defense attorney approached Ruttenberg, and told him that Potter had a prior criminal record. Actually, a pretty extensive one. He had previously been convicted of stealing computers from a school, and had a 17-year suspended sentence hanging over his head. A conviction on this charge would likely send him back to jail to fulfill the rest of the sentence. Ruttenberg actually liked Potter (Ruttenberg’s biggest flaw, over and over again in all of this, seems to be that he’s too trusting and too willing to give second chances to people who don’t deserve them), and recognized that the guy was a mess. He didn’t want the theft of a mixing board from his club to ultimately put the guy away for 17 years, effectively ruining his life.

So Ruttenberg approached the prosecutors, and told them that he no longer wanted to press charges. The state dropped its case against Potter.

Ruttenberg would soon find out that Christian Gates changed his story. Despite signing an affidavit for Ruttenberg stating otherwise (see link above), Gates later strangely told police that he had given Potter permission to yank his mixing board out of the deejay booth and flee with it during business hours (sounds oddly like a guy pressured to change his story, doesn’t it? Who would give someone permission to do such a thing?)

This was apparently enough for the police to charge Ruttenberg with willfully misleading them.

On March February 11, 2002, Manassas Park Police Officer Travis Mosher (the same officer who would later release two men Ruttenberg caught doing cocaine in his club without so much as a summons, and who I would personally witness harassing Ruttenberg’s customers, in addition to other odd goings-on) came in to Rack ‘n’ Roll with a warrant for David Ruttenberg’s arrest. Officer Mosher then handcuffed Ruttenberg and frog-marched him out of his own business in handcuffs, in front of his customers and employees. For a misdemeanor.

If you look at the arrest warrant, you’ll also notice that the officer who filed the complaint is named Howard Perry (weird side note: I’m told that Perry is the police officer who found John Wayne Bobbit’s severed penis on the side of the road).

Ruttenberg’s trial was in April 2002. He attended with his father Neil Ruttenberg and his girlfriend at the time, Amber Lucas (I’ve also interviewed Lucas, and she confirmed this account of events). Ruttenberg’s case was toward the end of the day, and the courtroom was nearly empty by the time it was called. But let’s back up a bit. During the proceedings of another trial, Ruttenberg’s then-girlfriend Lucas recognized one of the prosecutors, a woman named Amy Ashworth. Lucas moved up to the front of the courtroom and sat just behind Ashworth, waiting for an opportunity to say hello. A short time later, as Ruttenberg’s trial approached, Lucas says she noticed Officer Perry sitting just to the right of Ashworth. According to Lucas, Perry leaned over, and said to Ashworth, referring to Ruttenberg, “This is a really bad guy. We need to teach him a lesson. We need your help getting this guy.” According to Lucas, Ashworth was surprised, and replied, sternly, “I’ll have no part of that.”

This story comes via Lucas, a former paramour of Ruttenberg’s. So weigh it accordingly. I wasn’t able to get in touch with Ashford. Ruttenberg says she told she has no recollection of the conversation with Perry, though she didn’t deny it happened, either.

Here’s another related harassment anecdote: Ruttenberg and Lucas say that one night at the height of the Rack ‘n’ Roll harassment, the couple was in the car kissing when Officers Perry and Mosher approached them. They knocked on the window, and amused, asked Lucas if she was really “with this guy of your own free will?”

Ruttenberg, his father, and Lucas also say that just before Ruttenberg’s trial was to begin, four Manassas Park police officers entered the courtroom and sat in the back row, with broad smiles on their faces.

When it came time for the trial, the prosecutor did indeed refuse to pursue the charges. She entered a nolle prosequi. Ruttenberg was free to go. The four police officers apparently left unhappy.

Here’s where it gets even stranger. At Ruttenberg’s state Alcoholic Beverage Control hearing (remember, that’s the hearing resulting from the raid on Ruttenberg’s pool hall), Ruttenberg brought up his arrest as evidence that the Manassas Park police and city officials were out to get him. Bizarrely, Officer Mosher testified that he couldn’t remember arresting Ruttenberg. From the transcript:

Q: Now, in March of 2002 [sic], did you go to Rack ‘n’ Roll and arrest David Ruttenberg for a false police report?

Mosher: I’m not sure.

Q: You don’t recall?

Mosher: I do not.

Hearing Officer: You don’t recall arresting him?

Mosher: I don’t recall, ma’am. The reason I don’t recall is that I’m not sure if it was a warrant or something along those natures. I, myself, did not generate a case.

Hearing Officer: Did you actually arrest him?

Mosher: I don’t recall.

Q: Is it your testimony that you did not show up and place David Ruttenberg in handcuffs and…

Counsel: Objection to the characterization.

Hearing Officer: He said he didn’t recall that.

Q: He didn’t recall arresting him, wasn’t sure if it was a warrant. I want to know if he recalled putting him in handcuffs.

Mosher: I do not recall.

This is implausible. Ruttenberg’s name was the talk of Manassas Park at the time, and has been since. It’s a small town. And the police, including Mosher, were clearly fixated on Ruttenberg and Rack ‘n’ Roll. It’s just not feasible that Mosher wouldn’t remember arresting him and escorting him out of the bar.

Thing is, it would also be a weird thing for Mosher to lie about. It isn’t as if there’s any question about who made the arrest. He clearly signed the warrant, and including his badge number, as the officer who executed the arrest. Ruttenberg’s customers and employees also witnessed the whole thing.

The only reason I can figure he’d “forget” about the incident is that doing so might get him out of answering any probing questions about who instructed him to do it, and why.

Now look at this. It’s a statement given by Angie Hoffman, a former waitress at Rack ‘n’ Roll, to a private investigator hired by the Ruttenbergs. Hoffman claims that about 3 1/2 months before the ABC hearing, Officer Mosher told her at a family barbecue that everyone in the Manassas Park police department knows Ruttenberg is a drug dealer (she also says she’s never known Ruttenberg to either use or distribute drugs).

I’ve talked to several people around Manassas Park who tell similar stories. The town’s police made a habit of warning people not to visit David Ruttenberg’s club due, in turn, to Ruttenberg being a drug user, a drug dealer, a rapist, and/or a child pornographer. Of course, there’s no evidence that he’s any of those things.

At the ABC hearing, Officer Mosher testified that he’d never heard of Hoffman.

Precedent for the Rack n’ Roll Case

Monday, March 5th, 2007

I realize many people are going to be reluctant to believe that a city would knowingly set up drug deals in a legitimate business in order to seize that business as part of a redevelopment scheme. But that’s what I and several others think is what happened to David Ruttenberg in Manassas Park.

And while such occurrences aren’t common, they aren’t unheard of. Here’s one from Seattle that was settled five years ago:

The owner of a Central Area nightclub embroiled in a legal battle with the city and state for the past seven years has settled the last part of his lawsuit with state Liquor Control Board.

The liquor board agreed to pay $525,000 to Oscar’s II. The owner, Oscar McCoy, claimed his constitutional rights were violated when city and state agencies tried to label the East Madison Street club a drug nuisance and deny it a liquor license.


The city settled its half of the suit Feb. 1 for $675,000. The liquor board and McCoy’s lawyers waited until yesterday to make their deal final — the day the case was scheduled to go to trial in King County Superior Court.

“What can I say? I’m glad it’s behind us,” McCoy said. “It was a nightmare.”

Informants for the Seattle Police Department made 18 crack cocaine buys at the club from 1995 to 1997, according to court documents.

The buys resulted in no arrests, but were intended to prove that the club should be closed as a drug magnet. In April 2000, the state Court of Appeals ruled that the city had violated McCoy’s right to due process. McCoy sued over his financial losses caused by the revoked liquor license.

What’s funny (and what Ruttenberg can expect, too) is that even after shelling out more than $1 million, the local government refused to admit its overreach:

Representatives of the liquor board likewise said their settlement had nothing to do with the merits of the suit.

“The board believes that its agents acted in a professional and lawful manner,” said Gigi Zenk, spokeswoman for the board. “They didn’t violate any laws. This was a prudent business decision.”

To which the plaintiff’s attorney replied:

“No one will ever apologize in a lawsuit,” said Dave Osgood, McCoy’s lawyer.

“The way you get that is in the size of the settlement. And nothing says I’m sorry like $1.2 million.”

There’s a more thorough accounting of the case here, in the Seattle Times. Note the similarities. The club owner reached out to police and asked them to help him get rid of drug activity. The police asked favors of him, and he obliged. Then they turned on him. The state’s liquor board was a mere formality than any attempt to get at the truth. They took everything the police said at face value, and viewed everything the bar owner said with suspicion.

What’s particularly interesting about the Oscar’s II case is that the city seems to have paid out the settlement in order to keep secret the way it handles its drug policing. The city’s alt weekly The Stranger speculated that this was to save the city embarrassment. If it came out that both the buyers and sellers at Oscar’s II were working for the police, then the police become the source of the very problem for which they were trying to shut down the bar.

That may provide a blueprint for Ruttenberg. If he can get his federal lawsuit far enough along to get a discovery order requiring Manassas Park police to turn over the names of their confidential informants and all documents pertaining to the the town’s campaign against him, my guess is that the town will almost certainly settle. I have a hunch there’s some really embarrassing stuff in there that town officials would rather the public not see.

Back to Manassas Park

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

The Manassas Journal Messenger published a three-part story on the Rack ‘n’ Roll affair. The series started on Thursday and concluded Saturday. See part one here. Part two, here. And part three, here.

Greg L. at BVBL is doing a great job dissecting it.

I found the series generally disappointing. There isn’t much in the way of actual investigative reporting. Instead, it seems to follow a bland formula of printing David Ruttenberg’s accusations, then printing the reaction from town officials. Over and over, that’s the extent of the reporting — accusation, counter. Accusation, counter. Reporter Alexander Grenados does little to try to independently verify whether or not Ruttenberg actually has a case against the town. Ruttenberg has a mountain of videotape, affidavits, witnesses, and paperwork to support his accusations. Grenados reports on very little of this supporting evidence.

This of course doesn’t make Ruttenberg look very good. The end result is a series of articles in which an aggrieved man is levying serious charges against a bunch of people who have the authority and pretenses of public office. Grenados prints an accusation from Ruttenberg, then the response from town officials who, speaking from a position of power, simply answer that he’s “deluded.”

Where’s the context? Here are a few questions Grenados might have asked:

  • Why was a 50-member (at least) SWAT-police team used to raid a private business for a regulatory alcohol inspection?
  • There was no criminal search warrant for the raid. So why was David Ruttenberg’s private, on-premises office searched — a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment?
  • What does it mean that the only charges stemming from this very expensive, very invasive, militaristic raid were two very minor violations of state alcohol regulations?
  • What to make of the dozens of Rack ‘n’ Roll customers reporting systematic harassment at the hands of Manassas Park police officers upon leaving the club?
  • What to make of the dozen or so witnesses who say that the police have been spreading rumors that Ruttenberg’s a drug dealer? A child molester? That his business is an “open air drug market?”

    That’s really only scratching the surface. Here’s hoping the FBI investigation digs quite a bit deeper.

    My hunch (and it’s only a hunch) is that Grenados’ original series was quite a bit more biting, but was toned down by his editors. That hunch is supported by BVBL sources who seemed to indicate this series was set to run more than a month ago. For some reason, it was held up. I should probably note here that I haven’t talked to Grenados or anyone at the Journal Messenger, and that I’m certain they wouldn’t tell me about the internal editing process if I asked.

    It’s great that the local paper decided to cover this story, and that it gave it so much space. But the end result is disappointing. And not necessarily because it doesn’t support my contention that there’s some serious corruption afoot in Manassas Park (a contention I think is well-supported by the reporting done here and at BVBL).

    The he said/he said nature of the article at least gets the case out there for public consumption. And that the paper even ran the series suggests that Grenados and his editors at least think there’s some legitimacy to Ruttenberg’s allegations. And as someone who’s spent hours wading through Ruttenerg’s extensive documentation of abuse, I understand that it can be overwhelming, and that it would be extremely difficult for a newspaper to devote the space necessary to laying all of it out.

    But there’s far more to Ruttenberg’s case than mere allegations. There are witnesses, sworn affidavits, videotapes, audio recordings, and court documents. Maybe the city has answers for all of that. I’d like to see the mayor explain why he appeared out of nowhere early one morning as Ruttenberg was talking to a television reporter. I’d like the police chief to be shown the video of the guys doing cocaine in Ruttenberg’s bar, then explain why, when Ruttenberg called the cops, the cops took the two men outside, and let them go. Why were Ruttenberg’s permits revoked over a few minor alcohol violations and alleged drug activity (much of it perpetrated by the police) when other bars nearby have committed far more serious infractions, and were allowed to continue operating?

    It would have been nice to have seen the city officials actually confronted with Ruttenberg’s evidence, and asked to explain it away. Maybe there are perfectly viable explanations for all of it. I doubt it. But if there are, I’d like to hear them.

    Point is, I don’t think a casual reader of the series comes away with the understanding that Ruttenberg’s case is much, much more than just an aggrieved business owner concocting wild conspiracy theories.

    More to come.

    SLIGHTLY RELATED NOTE: I should add here, that as someone that’s generally skeptical of government and of the competence of people in government, I usually shy away from conspiracy theories. Not that I don’t think there are people in power who have the will to attempt them. It’s more that I don’t think government is capable of pulling them off. I generally abide by the axiom “Never attribute to conspiracy what can be attributed to incompetence.”

    However. In addition to Ruttenberg’s extensive documentation (and that everything he has told me has thus far checked out), I tend to buy the conspiracy and corruption in Manassas Park because of the sheer inept and bumbling way it was carried out. No question, they’ve damaged Ruttenberg. But they’ve also made some critical errors, and at times displayed downright comical ineptitude (here’s one example — I’ll have another later).

  • Back to Manassas Park

    Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

    Greg L. at Black Velvet Bruce Li probably understandably reluctant to raise this point, so I will:

    He has posted the cease-and-desist letter sent by a Manassas Park city attorney on his website. The letter references the posts that the attorney considers “false and defamatory.” What’s interesting is that all of the posts concern only the Manassas Park police officers. None of the posts related to off-track betting, the mayor, or other city officials are mentioned.

    I’ve also been told by sources close to the case that the attorney that sent the letter isn’t one of the attorney working on the larger lawsuit David Ruttenberg has filed against the city.

    This lawyer, working for the city, appears to be only representing the cops. I’m not sure what to make of that, but it’s interesting.

    Also interesting is that one of the posts mentioned in the letter is one where BVBL linked to my firsthand account of police abuse at Rack n’ Roll. I don’t know how they think they can approve the abuse didn’t happen. I saw it with my own eyes. As did about a dozen other people. And this, merely on that particular night.

    Back to Manassas Park

    Sunday, February 18th, 2007

    I haven’t been doing my part on the Rack n’ Roll case, mostly because my time’s been sucked up by other commitments. But Black Velvet Bruce Li has been dutifully running off outrageous post after outrageous post.

    Now, the city of Manassas Park has sent him sent him a cease and desist letter, claiming he’s publishing “false and defamatory” information about city officials and employees. He writes:

    I’m actually somewhat surprised by this, as everything I’ve said is true is backed up by video, audio, transcripts of testimony under oath, sworn statements, and/or multiple sources. Everything I’ve said on this matter is not only true to the best of my knowledge, but the evidence that supports this perspective on Manassas Park’s current regime is truly massive. If the City of Manassas Park decided to pursue a defamation case against me and put themselves in the position of being subjected to the degree of discovery a case like this would likely permit, it would give me all of the evidence now held by the city which has so far been denied David Ruttenberg, and would allow him to conclusively prevail in his five million dollar lawsuit against the city and many of it’s officers. That would be a positive outcome for justice, which has been denied for far too long.

    A lawsuit like this would also give tremendous visibility to this scandal. I’ve become a somewhat notable website for local politics, but my readership is nothing close to the daily circulation of the media outlets which cover the area and I harbor no illusions about my significance outside of the political junkies and the occasionally curious. Having a locality file a lawsuit against a political blogger would probably be a pretty significant story and splash the Rack & Roll Scandal into the public consciousness in a way that I could never do. That would be a positive outcome for the citizens of Manassas Park, who deserve better government which such publicity might help to cause.

    He’s exactly right. Which is why I think they’re bluffing. Manassas Park is governed by fools, but they can’t possibly be this foolish.

    He plans to neither cease nor desist. Good for him. I plan to get back to covering the case, too. Though with less valiance than BVBL — no one has yet sent me any fun letters.

    Back to Manassas Park

    Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

    I’ll have a couple of Rack n’ Roll posts of my own next week.

    But in the meantime, there’s a must-read post over at Black Velvet Bruce Li.

    If you’ve had any doubts about this case, or if you’ve reluctant to follow along, go over to BVBL, read the post, and listen to the audio clips.

    The Cliff’s Notes version: David Ruttenberg hires a guy named Tom Kifer to head up security for his bar. Kifer is specifically charged with keeping drug activity out of Rack n’ Roll. Ruttenberg later finds out that Kifer is working for the police, who have instructed him to set up drug deals in the bar, which they then plan use against Ruttenberg, who would later lose his license for — wait for it — failing to stop drug activity in his pool hall.

    Note that in the audio clips, Kifer tells Ruttenberg he realizes Ruttenberg’s getting screwed, but that the police are holding his probation over his head. There’s a bit more to this story, too. Kifer went to jail in part because of a bad check he wrote to Ruttenberg. Ruttenberg didn’t want to turn him in. But when he cashed the check and it bounced, he had no choice. When Kifer got out, he begged Ruttenberg for his job back. Ruttenberg gave it to him, mostly out of pity, and out of regret for in part being the reason Kifer went to prison in the first place.

    The whole thing was a ruse, of course. Kifer was working for the local police. Not to catch Ruttenberg doing anything wrong, but to help the police establish a pattern of drug activity at Rack n’ Roll — activity that took place despite Ruttenberg’s best efforts to stop it.

    What do you do when you continue to report drug activity to the police, only to have them ignore it, in all likelihood because they instigated much of it? What do you do when you hire security to hunt down drug dealers, only to find out that the very same security personnel you hired are setting up drug deals on behalf of the police — sometimes deals where the only parties are undercover cops and paid informants?

    I can’t believe Ruttenberg hasn’t gone completely nuts by now. Imagine watching helplessly as you learn, slowly, that the people who hold power where you live have decided to take you down, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

    Over at BVBL, Ruttenberg advocate Ahnke Cheney makes a great point in the comments section. She writes:

    The Ruttenbergs may have seemed like easy marks in the past because they believed so faithfully in the system and in the judicial process, not because they were dishonest or stupidââ?¬Â¦quite the opposite. Their disullusionment is now virtually complete…

    Many of Ruttenberg’s problems stem from the fact that he was too trusting and too cooperative with Manassas Park police. David’s father and brother are lawyers. This is a family that has for a long time had nothing but trust in the political and criminal justice systems. They regularly turned in drug dealers. When the police asked if they could use Rack n’ Roll for undercover operations, the Ruttenbergs obliged, thinking that cooperating with the police is a sound, civic-minded thing to do. Little did they know that their very cooperation would later be what doomed them.

    Are you listening Paul Ebert? What kind of message are you sending to the residents of Virginia about cooperating with authorities if you allow this to stand?

    Many of the drug deals Kifer set up were later used against Ruttenberg at his hearing before the ABC board (Virginia’s liquor board). Ruttenberg, who had hired staff to root out drug activity, who had installed an expensive security system to catch drug activity, and who had asked the police to cooperate with him to find and eliminate drug activity, eventually lost his liquor license because he wasn’t being vigilant enough about keeping drug activity out of his business — drug activity set up and executed by the police. And of course, he was barred from subpoenaing police records to prove the informants were in fact informants because police grant (and courts uphold) informants complete confidentiality.

    Ruttenberg’s taped conversations with Kifer are important because they prove that the police were instigating drug activity in the bar. One other thing: Note the way the police threaten Kifer with revocation of his parole if he spills the beans about their illegal smearing of Ruttenberg. This unfortunately isn’t unusual in this case. Ruttenberg has affidavits from other witnesses who express similar fears. In one affidavit that I’ll post later, the affiant includes in her statement a plea that Ruttenberg not ask her to testify in court because, she writes, “this is already scary enough.”

    As Cheney indicates, both David and his father now know what anyone who reads this site regularly knows: They know that the criminal justice system, the civil justice system, and the political system can be corrupt, crooked, and can produce an end result that resembles nothing close to “justice.” All sometimes need prodding, sunlight, and a bit of shame to get things right.

    The FBI and/or Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert need to correct this. The rotten public employees in Manassas Park need to lose their jobs and, if necessary, their freedom. And the Ruttenbergs need to be compensated for the loss of their business and reputations.

    Barring some drastic action to right these wrongs, why would anyone in Manassas Park ever cooperate with the police again?

    Manassas Park Updates

    Thursday, February 1st, 2007

    Black Velvet Bruce Li has several updates of the shenanigans going down in Manassas Park, Virginia.

    Pay particular attention to the “settlement offer” town officials offered David Ruttenberg.

    This is a very recent development, and it’s really pretty outrageous. In exchange for dropping his lawsuit, the city officials named in the lawsuit promised they would not stand in the way of Ruttenberg selling his bar — at a significant loss, of course (as BVBL notes, the statement to Ruttenberg from the city lawyer that he also gets “peace” in the deal is also striking).

    Isn’t this illegal? Aren’t they basically conceding in that offer that they currently are standing in the way of Ruttenberg selling his bar? As I understand it, they are. Ruttenberg has found people interested in buying his business who were then rebuffed by city officials who would hint to them that, for example, they have a difficult time obtaining permits.

    But here’s where it gets really crazy. The offer the city made only requires that Ruttenberg drop his suit against the individuals named in it. In other words, the Manassas Park mayor, chief of police, and individual police officers David Ruttenberg is suing were prepared not only to blackmail Ruttenberg into dropping his suit by removing the illegal obstacles they’d put in front of his selling the bar, they were doing all of this only to save their own asses. Though they’re employees of Manassas Park, they were negotiating as public employees to save themselves, not for the benefit of the town.

    That ought to say something to the citizens of Manassas Park about what their public officials are capable of.

    Back to Manassas Park

    Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

    I still have quite a bit more to report on what I’ve found in the Rack n’ Roll saga.

    But it looks like the local newspaper is set to move on a multi-part story looking into the persecution of David Ruttenberg. If the story pans out as I’m hearing it might, perhaps it’ll lead to a full-scale investigation of what’s going on over there.

    I’ve been trying since last March to get the Washington Post to cover all of this. So far, they’ve passed. Maybe the local paper’s coverage will spur the big guys into giving it some space, too.

    Back to Manassas Park

    Sunday, January 14th, 2007

    Black Velvet Bruce Li has the latest chapter in the ongoing Rack n’ Roll saga.

    This one goes back to 1994. I realize that if Mr. Ruttenberg’s battles with local officials go back 12 years, it sort of undercuts the theory about off-track betting being behind all of this.

    But I as I wrote in my post last month, I don’t think the motivators need to be mutually exclusive. It’s possible that Manassas Park officials had petty longstanding grudges against David Ruttenberg and that they were prepared to tap those grudges to push him out of his lease.

    Back to Manassas Park

    Thursday, January 11th, 2007

    Black Velvet Bruce Li has another update on the Rack n’ Roll Billiards case.

    Back to Manassas Park

    Monday, January 8th, 2007

    Black Velvet Bruce Lee has more videotape from the continuing campaign against Rack n’ Roll pool hall owner David Ruttenberg.

    Here’s the first tape. And here’s the second.

    Comment on the first tape: This is the one I told you about, where a Rack n’ Roll customer was weirdly arrested for “indecent exposure” when he stepped outside the pool hall to tuck in his shirt.

    Comment on the second tape: I actually hadn’t seen this video, though Ruttenberg had told me the story. Strange as the whole thing sounds, it’s about par for the course in this case.

    I tend not to buy into government conspiracy theories. Not because I don’t think government officials lack the will or the intent to carry them out, but because they usually lack the competence. That’s what made the whole Manassas Park affair so believable: The incredible ineptitude and buffoonery of the people who have it out for David Ruttenberg. Be it an odd mayor jumping out of the bushes in the wee hours of the morning to lure a reporter away from the story, or, in this case, police sending an ex-con into Ruttenberg’s bar in a transparent attempt to lure him into a scheme to buy off a Manassas Park police officer.

    Note too that the only reason we know about this incident is that Ruttenberg wired himself, as he’s done for most of his personal interactions over the last several years. It’s vital that the people retain the right to record police officers — and the people who work for them.

    I’ll have details about another hilarious, even more inept attempt to entrap Ruttenberg a bit later.

    My Visit to Rack n’ Roll

    Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007


    In May of last year, I went out to the Rack n’ Roll pool hall to see firsthand some of the harassment David Ruttenberg had been telling me about. At the time, David Ruttenberg still had his liquor license. But every weekend, he said, the Manassas Park police department would send squad cars to his bar. They would pull over random customers for drunken driving, for loitering, or for just about anything else they could drum up.

    He’d shown me videos. In one, you see a man come outside the bar, stretch, untuck his shirt, then tuck it back in. Minutes later you see two Manassas Park police cars pull up. Two officers get out and arrest the man on the spot. Ruttenberg says the customer later told him he’d been arrested — then later released without charge — for “indecent exposure.” Not sure, but I’d guess this is one of the videos the Black Velvet Bruce Li blog may soon be posting.

    Ruttenberg said the harassment was picking up in the weeks before I visited the bar — with one exception. Shortly after I posted the security video of the June 2004 raid on Ruttenberg’s bar last February, a woman named Anke Cheney took interest, began to observe at the bar, and soon became an advocate for Ruttenberg. That’s significant because Cheney has a long and distinguished career in Republican politics, and at the time, the mayor and most of the city council of Manassas Park were, likewise, Republicans. She took up Ruttenberg’s cause, she told me, because he was being wronged. Cheney’s been commenting regularly at the Black Velvet Bruce Li blog (also, incidentally, run by a guy active in local Republican politics) on Ruttenberg’s behalf. It’s clear that she, like me, thinks something’s corrupt in Manassas Park, and that the stench runs rather high up the town’s hierarchy.

    What’s interesting is that whenever Cheney was at the bar, the police tended to back off a bit. Apparently, they knew who she was. The harassment still went on, but when Cheney would come out of the bar to witness it, the police would let up. Cheney says she still thinks Ruttenberg’s bar is the safest place in the area for the 18 and older crowd, but added to me that, “that’s in spite of the Manassas Park police, not because of them.”

    That’s the background.

    The first few hours of my night at the bar were uneventful. My girlfriend and I played some pool, had a drink, and she did some karaoke (badly — but she was very cute!) while I played poker (a legal, no buy-in game, if you’re wondering). “Wait,” Ruttenberg told us, “they’ll be here soon.”

    On cue, we spotted lights outside the bar at about 12:30am. I went outside to see what was going on. Two Manassas Park police had pulled over a small Honda with two Hispanic-looking men inside. They’d both been in the bar moments earlier. I watched as the police searched both men thoroughly, then began rifling through their car. One of the officers was huge — I’d guess at least 6’6″ and about 275. He hovered over the two men, who were rather short, in a vaguely threatening manner. The guy was pretty intimidating.

    After about a half hour of searching, the police let the men go. They wouldn’t tell me or Ruttenberg why they searched the men. But one of the men told us his version of what happened: He had gone out to get the car while his friend paid the tab. He pulled up to the curb to get his friend, and was there for what he (and others) said was fifteen seconds at most before the squad cars descended on him. He says the police say they pulled him over and searched him for “parking in a fire lane.”

    Over the next three hours I watched in awe as one after another after another Manassas Park squad car pulled over Rack n’ Roll customers as they left the bar. They were stopped, searched, and sent on their way. I saw at least six different people get pulled over, and that was just within a few blocks of the place. Other customers told me they’d regularly get stopped another mile or so out.

    This, Ruttenberg and his customers assured me, happened nearly every weekend. The harassment had its intended effect. Ruttenberg’s clientele had dwindled to a handful of regulars and a significant number of Hispanics, the latter because Ruttenberg’s is one of the few bars in the area that not only isn’t hostile to them, but actually welcomes their business.

    One Hispanic man I talked to went by the name of Jesus. Ruttenberg and others in the bar said he’s well-respected in the Manassas-area Hispanic community, to the point were he’s often called to help resolve disputes and arguments. He doesn’t drink, and he doesn’t consume illicit drugs. Nevertheless, he told me he’d been pulled over more than 20 times over the last two years — each time upon leaving Rack n’ Roll. Each time he was searched, asked to perform sobriety tests, then released.

    Jesus next took me out in his car. He pointed out the spots where the Manassas Park police typically lie in wait for Rack n’ Roll customers. Sure enough, that’s exactly where the squad cars were, save for those that were already in the process of pulling someone over. Jesus said Hispanics were particularly prone to the harassment because they’re powerless to do much about it (though many non-Hispanic white people and black people told me they’ve been pulled over multiple times as well). Of course, many of them are also illegal, which makes them especially unlikely to do anything about the harassment (not making any immigration point here — just reporting what I was told). They keep coming back out of loyalty to Ruttenberg and because, frankly, there’s nowhere else in the area for them to go. Few of them would have as much as a beer, though. They didn’t want to give the police a reason to arrest them.

    By this point, I was sort of hoping I’d get pulled over — either with Jesus or as I was leaving in my own car. I had more than a few questions I’d have asked had we been pulled over for no reason, and I’m sure they’d have been a bit surprised to see me riding along. Alas, all of he police seemed occupied with other Rack n’ Roll customers by the second time Jesus and I drove through the club’s parking lot. And by the time we left the bar, at around 4am, the police had gone.

    I was surprised at how blatant, brazen, and systematic the harassment was. I’d seen Ruttenberg’s security videos, but I expected to see one, maybe two or three customers harassed. Not continual harassment for the better part of three hours. A few customers told me that when they’d been pulled over in the past, the officers flat out told them that if they’d continued to get pulled over for as long as they continued to patronize Rack n’ Roll.

    I’d add that my girlfriend was somewhat skeptical of what I’d been telling her about the Rack n’ Roll case before we visited the bar that night — completely understandable, given how flippin’ bizarre this case has been. But by the time we left, she was not only convinced, she was straight pissed off at what she’d seen.

    Ruttenberg’s liquor license was revoked a few months ago after a sham of a hearing before the state Alcohol Beverage Control stemming from all of this. The basic charge was that Ruttenberg wasn’t doing enough to keep the place free from drug activity (along with a couple of very minor violations — one count of serving to a minor, and an incident of women baring their breasts at the bar during Mardi Gras). What’s absurd is that Ruttenberg has good evidence that most of the activity was being initiated by the police (which of course brings us back to the off-track betting issue). Problem is, he had a difficult time proving that because Manassas Park police insist on retaining the confidentiality of the undercover officers and the informants they’re using. So confidentiality prevents Ruttenberg from proving the drug activity in his bar is being set up by the police. But at the same time, his bar is being shut down because the police say he hasn’t done enough to combat drug activity.

    See the trap they’ve ensnared him in?

    Even more absurd is that — as I mentioned before — Ruttenberg has good reason to believe that some of the people he hired for the specific purpose of keeping drug activity out of the bar were working with the police to initiate drug activity in it. Ruttenberg’s evidence is pretty sound, including affidavits from friends, family members, and former employers of the alleged informants (and in one case, from the alleged informant himself). Ruttenberg also has affidavit or taped conversations with ex-girlfriends, friends, and patrons of the bar who say they either did or were asked by Manassas Park police to serve as an informant to help get Ruttenberg. In some cases, these people were promised leniency on other charges in exchange for their help entrapping Ruttenberg. I talked to one of them.

    That and more to come.

    More from Manassas Park — With Video

    Sunday, December 31st, 2006

    Black Velvet Bruce Li has video of an incident captured by David Ruttenberg’s security cameras. The gist: Two men walk into the bar, sit down, and begin to openly snort cocaine at one of the tables. Ruttenberg’s manager alerts him, and they call the police. The police come, talk to the men, neglect to search them, and decline to look at the coke straw Ruttenberg’s manager snatched from one of them. The police then take the men outside, and let them go.

    Ruttenberg showed me this video in my first meeting with him. He then showed me several more just like it. Time and again, police would send people into the Rack n’ Roll pool hall to buy, sell, and use drugs (as well as to attempt to induce Ruttenberg and his employees into illegal activity). When Ruttenberg would report the drug activity, the police would do nothing about it — a strong sign that the users were actually working for the police. Word would then magically spread around town that Rack n’ Roll was a hub for drug activity. It was. It’s just that the police appeared to be the source of a good deal of it.

    I’ll get into the details a bit later, but in at least one case, and perhaps two, someone Ruttenberg hired specifically for the purpose of finding and reporting drug activity in the bar would later turn out to have been working for the police, who then instructed the same person to encourage drug activity in the bar.

    Ruttenberg doesn’t deny that there may have at times been some minor drug activity in his bar. No bar owner can guarantee otherwise. But Ruttenberg was certainly vigilant about keeping Rack n’ Roll clean. He had several times turned people over to the police (and, in cases like this one, only to have the police do nothing about it). I’ve seen the reports he filed, and I’ve seen the personal log he kept. On other occasions, he had offered to cooperate with the police. He also had an extensive security system set up to catch drug activity in the bar. He even offered the police use of his external cameras to monitor crime in and near the shopping center. And as mentioned, he hired a bouncer and a DJ who, despite their outward titles, were hired mainly to find and report drug activity.

    What Ruttenberg didn’t count on, and what appears to have happened, is that much of the drug activity taking place in his bar may actually have been instigated by the local police. And it would all be later held against him.

    Manassas Park, Ct’d

    Friday, December 29th, 2006

    Here’s the district court’s decision in the Ruttenberg case.

    And here’s some analysis from Fourth Amendment expert John Wesley Hall.

    The immunity stuff is bad enough — and remember, Mr. Ruttenberg didn’t include any of the offtrack betting evidence in his motion.

    But what I find striking is just how dismissive this judge is of the fact that Manassas Park police conducted a what was clearly a search for criminal misconduct under the auspices of an administrative inspection. They couldn’t get a criminal search warrant. So they brought in a few Alcohol Beverage Control officials, making the entire exercise a dubious “inspection,” and conducted the search anyway.

    Routine alcohol inspections don’t normally include ski-mask wearing cops storming the joint while pumping shotguns. Nor do they necessitate handcuffing customers.

    This is a growing problem. Police are increasingly using non-criminal regulatory agencies inspection powers to get around the Fourth Amendment (see, for example, the city of Buffalo’s “Clean Sweep” program).

    If, as the judge in Ruttenberg’s case has argued, it is not “unreasonable” for police to bring a 70+ member police-SWAT team to conduct what is supposed to be a routine inspection for compliance with the state’s alcohol laws, you have to wonder just what would constitute an unreasonable search.

    And if his ruling stands, it sets a nasty precedent. It could enable police in Prince William County to conduct criminal searches of just about any business without a search warrant — just declare that the search isn’t really a search at all, it’s just a fire or alcohol or building code inspection.