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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?

Wednesday, Mar 17 2010
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Of course, the bust at the Room didn't come out of nowhere: The week before, Bertrand had responded to a stabbing on the Room's dancefloor.

According to the police incident report, officers arrived at the club to find a man bleeding from his stomach and arm. He told police he had been on the dancefloor and thought someone had hit him, but when he looked down he saw he had been stabbed.

"It wasn't a big stabbing," Quan said. As he describes it, some guy had stuck another guy with a box cutter. He never heard back from the victim; if it had been serious, he argues, he would have been sued.

Club Caliente on 11th Street was cited three times last fall for having minors on the premises, but owner Maurice Salinas claims he was forced to shut down completely after his primarily Latino patrons interpreted a bust by Bertrand and Ott as an immigration raid. As SF Weekly reported in December, Salinas complained to the Entertainment Commission, alleging racial profiling, intimidation, and harassment, after officers including Bertrand and Ott lined his customers up against the wall to check their IDs. Salinas says that subsequent attendance dropped dramatically, forcing him to shut the club.

In an interview, McDonagh emphasized, "Caliente was never singled out to say that we're going to shut it down. We don't want to see people shut their businesses; we just want to see them in compliance with the law."

At nightlife stalwart DNA Lounge, owner Jamie Zawinski says his club was cited by Bertrand and Ott for having too many patrons blocking the sidewalk on New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day weekend. Zawinski labeled these charges "bullshit," since the events took place on busy holidays, his patrons were orderly, and the sidewalk wasn't actually blocked. Zawinski, who blogs extensively about controversies over ABC and SFPD nightlife enforcement, says that Bertrand told one of his staff that he knew about the blogging, and that they would see more of him in the future.

Zawinski and Quan both allege that Bertrand and Ott failed to follow up on tickets issued to their venues. Zawinski said that when his manager went to the Hall of Justice to deal with a ticket for not keeping the sidewalk clear, a clerk told him the ticket was invalid. Quan said that when Ott issued him a ticket for the Room, his court date was rescheduled for a furlough day, and that he showed up to find that no one was there.

Javier Magallon, the bartender who was arrested during the bust of the Room, said that this happened when he tried to find out why he had been arrested. The trouble started when Ott approached him belligerently, he said. "Every time she asked a question, she prefaced it with, 'If you don't answer this, you're going to jail,'" he recalled. He couldn't understand the strong-arm treatment. At one point, he claims, Bertrand asked him for his laptop. He was a bartender; why would he have a laptop?

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.

About The Author

Lois Beckett

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