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ACLU of Utah Joins Lawsuit Challenging Raids of Concerts and Violation of Free Speech

ACLU of Utah Reporter: Fall 2005

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project have joined a lawsuit challenging law enforcement raids of electronic music concerts. The suit charges Utah County law enforcement with widespread violations of the constitutional rights of concert promoters and venue owners during concerts on July 16 and August 20.

“Utah County’s actions strike at the heart of First Amendment freedoms,” said ACLU of Utah attorney Margaret Plane. “The ACLU is joining this fight to help protect our fundamental rights from this kind of unjust law enforcement action.”

During the August 20 concert, dozens of battle-ready Utah County law enforcement officers, accompanied by police dogs and a helicopter, stormed concertgoers and threatened some with arrest. Both concerts took place in Spanish Fork Canyon. The owners of the 350-acre ranch, which has hosted several concerts over the last three summers, were also ordered off the land. Police did not have warrants to enter the land or to search concertgoers at either event.

“It was like a war zone. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said one of the concert promoters, Brandon Fullmer. “Although I plan to organize more concerts, I know lots of people would be afraid to come because of the police raid and, honestly, I am afraid too.”

Utah County Sheriff James Tracy, one of several defendants in the suit, authorized and implemented the August 20 raid based largely on the presumption that the concert would continue beyond the twelve hours for which promoters had secured necessary permits. The police entries, however, occurred only a few hours into each concert. In fact, the August 20 concert was not scheduled to run beyond twelve hours, nor were any event staff contracted to work beyond twelve hours. The promoters, additionally, had assured the property’s owners in advance that the concert would not last twelve hours.

At no point did police ask the promoters or property owners how long the August 20 concert would run, nor did they request the acquisition of further permits. While police claim to have conducted a handful of undercover drug buys at the event, these did not, according to the lawsuit, justify the termination of the concert and forceful dispersal of the roughly seven hundred people in attendance.

“The sheriff misinterpreted and wrongly applied an overly vague ordinance, which unfortunately, remains intact,” said attorney Brian M. Barnard who filed the initial lawsuit on behalf of the concert promoters and landowners. “No promoter or venue can successfully put on concerts if they never know when or why the cops will end an event.”

The case is Uprock v. Tracy. More information is available online at www.acluutah.org/docket.htm#uprock.

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