Turning the Tables

Police have made a number of arrests and seizures of DJ equipment at underground parties and clubs. Is it enforcement or harassment?

Magallon said he tried to cooperate, even backing out from behind the bar so it would be easier for Bertrand to put on the handcuffs. He said Bertrand treated him roughly anyway, shoving him down on a couch and cinching the handcuffs way too tightly. "Never was I wrangled like that in my life," Magallon said.

What gets him most, Magallon said, is the sense that he was targeted and treated harshly for no good reason. He said Ott cited him for resisting arrest and obstructing justice, but when he turned up for his court date, it was a furlough day — and although he called Ott to find out what he should do next, he never got a response. After the incident, he quit his job and didn't work for almost three months. "I was just really bitter about going back to bartending," he said. "I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to the industry."

He got another bartending job in North Beach, and asked that his new place of employment not be included in the article.

"Ninety-nine percent of every correspondence I've ever had with the San Francisco police [has] been nothing but fair," he said. "They have been nothing but justified in everything I've done with them. It's just this one cop, Larry Bertrand, he doesn't deserve the honor of wearing the badge. The sooner the department does something about him, the better."

To many in the city's nightlife scene, including San Francisco's most prominent entertainment activists, Bertrand and Ott are only one flashpoint in what they see as a citywide SFPD and ABC crackdown on entertainment venues. In response, Entertainment Commissioner Terrance Alan and others have founded the California Music and Culture Association (CMCA), an industry advocacy group, to help coordinate a nightlife community response.

Most say the crackdown started in late 2008 with ABC's much-decried enforcement of specific permit demands about how much and what kind of food should be served at all-ages music venues, including Café Du Nord, Bottom of the Hill, Slim's, and Great American Music Hall, and has continued to expand, threatening the viability of San Francisco's nightlife. It doesn't hurt the conspiracy theories that ABC's new director, Steve Hardy, is a former San Francisco cop, or that little-loved Southern District permit officer Rose Meyer is now working for the ABC.

In early December, Ghanadan says that he and his lawyers attended a CMCA "founders' meeting" with 30 to 40 other people involved in the city's nightlife. It was designed to discuss broad problems with enforcement, but it turned out that at least 10 people at the meeting had had run-ins with Bertrand, Ghanadan said.

Mark Rennie, a former nightclub owner and San Francisco entertainment attorney, says he has been overwhelmed by complaints from his clients about ABC and SFPD enforcement, and believes that San Francisco's nightlife culture is under serious attack. Last fall, he got a call from trial attorney Mark Webb, who wanted to hear more about Bertrand and the problems Rennie's clients had been having. Webb began to develop an audacious plan. What if he put all the complaints together and made a grand gesture to get the city's attention?

Webb suggested that he use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law, a statute created to prosecute Mafia organizations, to file a complaint against the ABC and the SFPD — suing the government agencies, he says, for acting like the Mob.

Early last year, Webb had given up his career as an attorney and moved to Mexico to open a yoga studio. He had a messy divorce and a run-in with the California Bar Association (he got a two-year probation in 2008 for a delayed payment to another attorney). San Miguel de Allende, he says, was a small, soothing town with cobblestone streets and a population of American retirees. He says he was living modestly and giving yoga lessons.

But it was a little too quiet in San Miguel, and then swine flu broke out. So Webb came back to San Francisco. He moved into the Zen Center, where he had practiced meditation for many years, and decided to go back to the law. He wanted to do something inspiring and worthwhile, and when he heard the talk about Larry Bertrand and the ABC crackdown, he thought of his experience doing RICO cases as a young lawyer.

It seemed like the perfect fit.

Over the past two months, Webb has been gathering a group of plaintiffs, including Maurice Salinas of Caliente, Jamie Zawinski of DNA, Mike Quan of the Room and Mist, and bartender Javier Magallon, all of whom have complaints about Bertrand and Ott's enforcement.

But Webb says the lawsuit is much bigger than two officers in SOMA: He says additional plaintiffs will include Philippe Rieser, the managing partner of Vessel.

Rieser, who also owns the New York nightclub Cielo, said in an interview that he lost about $160,000 in a business deal to acquire Azul, a downtown San Francisco club near Vessel, and turn it into a late-night restaurant. Rieser says that as he was in the process of buying Azul's liquor license, ABC changed the conditions of the license from a 2 a.m. closing time to midnight, making it effectively worthless.

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