Appeals Court Rules in Rack 'n' Roll Pool Hall Case

A few weeks ago, a three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit tossed out (pdf) most of the civil rights suit filed by David Ruttenberg, owner of the Rack 'n' Roll Pool hall in Manassas Park, Virginia.  Fortunately, the court did leave one Fourth Amendment claim that could save Ruttenberg's case.

For a couple of years now, I've been reporting on how officials in the tiny town of Manassas Park have been harassing Ruttenberg and attempting to take away his business.  The police there have been investigating Rutenberg for several years, for what they've recently said are drug crimes.  As of yet, they've found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Ruttenberg.  They've arrested him twice on charges unrelated to drugs—once for filing a false police report and once for bouncing a check—and in both cases the charges were eventually dropped.

The police in Manassas Park have hired informants to set up drug deals in Ruttenberg's bar (which they later cited as evidence that Ruttenberg's bar was a filled with drug activity).  They've pulled over Ruttenberg's former girlfriends, and threatened them with charges unless they provided information against him.  They've even co-opted security Ruttenberg had hired specifically for the purpose of keeping drugs out of his bar, and had them set up drug transactions in the bar. 

The story took a particularly weird twist last year when local politics blogger Greg Letiecq and I revealed that one of the charges levied against Ruttenberg by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control—that he was allowing lewd activity to go on at the bar—was due to photos dozens of photos of women dancing in various stages of undress that were taken by then-Manassas Park Vice Mayor Kevin Brendel.  At the time, Brendel was working at Ruttenberg's bar as a part-time D.J.  Current and former Rack 'n' Roll staff say Brendel encouraged the women to strip and put on lewd contests when Ruttenberg wasn't around, despite repeated warnings from Ruttenberg.

I've personally witnessed police harassment of Ruttenberg's customers.  And I've gone through hours of surveillance video with him showing countless attempts to set him up.

Ruttenberg has shown remarkable resolve through all of this.  He records every phone conversation.  He keeps meticulous surveillance video that covers every corner of his property.  He collects statements and affidavits from staff, friends, and witnesses.  He has hired private investigators.  He has a formidable collection of evidence of public corruption and police misconduct (I've spent hours with him at the bar going through it all).  Unfortunately, local prosecutor Paul Ebert (the same prosecutor in the Ryan Frederick case) seems uninterested.  As does the FBI.  And the Virginia State Police.

The appeals court ruling was pretty dismissive of Ruttenberg's suit (the ruling also misstates several facts about the case).  But the one claim they left intact may turn out to be enough.  The appeals court panel reversed the district court's dismissal of Ruttenberg's Fourth Amendment claim that the tactics the police used in a 2004 raid on Rack 'n' Roll were excessive.  And they most certainly were. 

The police initially sought a criminal search warrant for the raid.  They couldn't find a judge to grant them one.  So instead, they claimed they were conducting a routine alcohol inspection, and raided the place anyway.  This "regulatory inspection" was clearly intended to intimidate Ruttenberg and his customers, and to find evidence of criminality—the police brought more than 70 officers from Manassas Park and surrounding jurisdictions, some in uniform, some in plain clothes, and still others in ski-mask hats and camouflage pumping shot guns as the stormed the place (on Ladies' Night).

If this was a routine alcohol inspection, you have to wonder what an actual drug raid might have looked like.  Here's Ruttenberg's surveillance video of the raid.  Er, "inspection":

The only people arrested in the raid were either undercover cops or people Ruttenberg later learned were working for the police as confidential informants.

The bad news is that while the ruling remands the remaining claim back to the district court for further proceedings, the panel then expresses a good deal of skepticism about whether the remaining claim should ultimately survive.  In fact, the ruling nearly instructs the district court on how to dismiss it.

The good news is that Ruttenberg has several state claims that remain intact, which he can now attach to his federal case.  That gets him into discovery, where he can demand to see everything the town of Manassas Park has accumulated in its long investigation of him.

Ruttenberg's other problem right now is that he has run out of money to pursue the case any further.  He had kept his bar open at a loss for a couple of years in hopes of selling it.  He was finally able to sell it at a steep loss last year, but that and the legal fees he has accumulated have wrecked him.  He's currently looking for legal representation to help him continue the case.

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  • ed||

    Bait and switch! Am I the only one who clicked on the were taken by link, hoping to see "women dancing in various stages of undress," only to be disappointed yet again? Not to make light of a serious matter, of course. Abuse of authority is a vary bad thing. Just sayin'.

  • Colin||

    If the Man has it out for you, you're just fucked.

    This guy should write a book about his travails. It would probably do more for his cause than a lawsuit.

  • Naga Sadow||

    What did this Ruttenberg do anyway? Who did he piss off?

  • Episiarch||

    When you have as much meticulous evidence as Ruttenberg does, along with so much obvious malfeasance by the police, and the judges basically scoff at you, you know the system is fucked up beyond repair.

  • THAT guy||

    Radley,

    Are you trying to make me hate America? Because, holy shit, it's working.

  • Franklin Harris||

    When you have as much meticulous evidence as Ruttenberg does, along with so much obvious malfeasance by the police, and the judges basically scoff at you, you know the system is fucked up beyond repair.



    The system isn't fucked up. It's working exactly as you'd expect, because the police and the judges work for the same side, i.e., the government.

  • ||

    This stuff is so depressing when it's not infuriating.

    Meanwhile, the surname "Letiecq" must prompt delays on every news copy desk that encounters it. (Journos will know what I'm getting at.)

  • IIRC||

    What did this Ruttenberg do anyway? Who did he piss off?

    Several years ago, Manasass Park officials wanted to redevelop the land on which the strip mall sits that contains his bar. Ruttenberg refused to play ball.

  • I did not RC||

    One reason the Ruttenbergs suspect David Ruttenberg is being targeted, believe it or not, goes back a few years to a time when Ruttenberg and a Manassas Park police officer were romantically interested in the same woman. That officer apparently nursed a grudge against Ruttenberg, and is now the head of the narcotics task force that serves Manassas Park. They also suspect that once the raid failed, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to taxpayers, Manassas Park police became determined to justify the raid by continually pursuing David Ruttenberg until they could find a reason to arrest him.


    http://www.theagitator.com/2006/02/20/the-rack-n-roll-billiards-raid/

  • Ah yes, there was a redevelopm||

    http://www.theagitator.com/2006/12/22/manassas-park-smears-a-businessman/

    Then I remembered reading something long ago in the Washington Post about where the proposed location was for Colonial Downs to establish an off-track betting facility in Manassas Park that got defeated in two referenda, the last being in 2004. It was at the Manassas Park Shopping Center. And the location of Rack & Roll? Same place.

  • ||

    few things infuriate me as much as this.

  • Radley Balko||

    What did this Ruttenberg do anyway? Who did he piss off?

    I think it was a combination of things. The off-track betting facility, a grudge against Ruttenberg by the officer who came to head up the regional narcotics task force, and Ruttenberg's refusal to back down.

    My own opinion is that some good old fashioned Antisemitism was a factor, too.

  • ||

    What about IJ? Or this not their sort of thing.

  • Matt Moore||

    Huh, I didn't realize Ruttenberg was a Jew. What makes you think that was a factor?

  • Geotpf||

    For those of you who are Ron Paul-esque state's righters, keep in mind that this, and most of the other abuse of government stories on this blog, are about state or local officials who do bad things, not the Feds (despite the fact that the Feds are also bonkers due to influence from Bush et al, although that part will change somewhat once Obama becomes president). Also keep in mind that it looks like a Federal lawsuit is what might stop this activity.

    Local officials often can get away with being assholes because there's less scrutiny by the press and the public on what a local offical does, as compared to the Federal government, simply because it's a local issue and not nationwide.

  • anonymous||

    I agree with Geotpf on states rights. Would the ACLU take on his case it sounds right up their ally. I cant stand this shit, its too much. Who would have thought that cops would be more of a threat to property rights then a defence? Well anarchists, of course. Actions like these undermine the rule of law more then petty crime and robberies because they undermine faith in the erstwhile, or more likely ostensible defenders of the rule of law. Police corruption is inevitable, but the problem with rampant criminalization of consensual crimes is it turns the police into a gang of gun wielding thugs. I'm generalizing but anyone who has had an unfreindly encounter with a police oficer knows what I'm talking about.

    Well thanks for entertaining my civil libertarian rant it helps, I hope

  • Guy Montag||

    My own opinion is that some good old fashioned Antisemitism was a factor, too.

    Okay, I was really really really pissed off about this before, but now double that level, so it is like six+really pissed.

    I am serious.

  • Travis||

    Geotpf,

    I agree. How can a State have rights? It's is just a government institution. Individuals have rights not States.

  • ||

    Sounds like this town is just full of CORRUPT COPS. LOL, I guess its like any other city in the nation! LMAO.

    JT
    http://www.ULtimate-Anonymity.com

  • ||

    Is there any way I can help him out?

  • Guy Montag||

    Geotpf,

    So, that long-winded position of yours is: we need a federal program and it will work once we elect the right people?

    Yea, right. Gotcha.

  • ||

    Should we start asking around for good attys licensed in VA help with this case pro bono?

  • Naga Sadow||

    Not unless you want to become a "person of interest" to your own local police.

  • ||

    Wow. I'm just stunned. I wish Mr. Ruttenburg the best. Good work by Radley, too.

  • ||

    As for the OTB redevelopment, I was happy to play ball with them. They simply thought they would use their city power to bully us out and not pay anything. They've done it to others. They don't give a crap about ruining a life's work and 7 figure investment.

    Thanks to all of you for making the effort to care what the leadership in that local govt is trying to get away with. The 4th cicuit has recognized it as well. I guess in that court's conservative climate I can't ask for much more.
    The ACLU has and is helping us all they can.

    I am looking for strong legal representation, maybe not pro bono, but, on contingency. Our evidence is strong. For example, "drug dealer" cell phone records show contact with the narc task force for months before their arrest at my pool hall. I have a filing cabinet full of this kind of stuff.
    If anyone would like to discuss ideas, feel free to email me at david@rnrclub.com

    PS I need to buy Radley Balko a drink. He deserves it. I think I'll have one myself too.

  • VikingMoose||

    Great work Radley!

    Good luck, David!

    and what Geotpf, anon, and Travis said. It's about curbing government abuses at any level.

  • Marcvs||

    Geotpf, did George W. Bush invent the Drug War?

  • ||

    I'd say book and a movie. We know a pretty good writer.

  • ||

    Local officials often can get away with being assholes because there's less scrutiny by the press and the public on what a local offical does, as compared to the Federal government, simply because it's a local issue and not nationwide.

    That's why there are fine people like Radley Balko, who work tirelessly to ensure that even the pettiest tyrant cannot escape the light of public inquiry.

  • Guy Montag||

    David,

    Good luck to you. All logic and common sense is on your side, but we all know what that is worth in court.

    I tried to find your place about 2 years ago or so when I first saw a Radley story about your situation, but did not give myself very good directions. Hope I can check it out soon.

    Montag

  • Guy Montag||

    Marcvs,

    Of course he did. It is just like when Nixon started the Vietnam war.

  • ||

    the Feds are also bonkers due to influence from Bush et al, although that part will change somewhat once Obama becomes president

    hahahahahaha! You kill me! I also understand Obama's going to change the spelling of naive so it's easier to use as well.

    "We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set," he said Wednesday. "We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded."

    Unless he's talking about increasing the budget for the CMP a hundredfold, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Obama to bring self-restraint back to government.

  • JMR||

    They didn't invent the various wars, they just spent even MORE on 'em!
    JMR

  • Marcvs||

    "We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set," he said Wednesday. "We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded."

    We'll call them Stormtroopers!

  • ||

    We'll call them Stormtroopers!

    Well, I see Sens. Obama and McCain agree on Stem Cell Research which is, let's face it, the first step towards making a Clone Army of the Republic. I don't think they count as "civilians", though.

  • Marcvs||

    I don't think they count as "civilians", though.

    Sorry I was referring to the Sturmabteilung or SA, affectionately referred to as the "brownshirts" or (in English) "stormtroopers". I guess I should've figured that it would conjure the image of Star Wars rather than Nazis. My bad.

  • ||

    No, I got you Marcvs, I was just being deliberately obtuse. Because one idea amused me more than the other.

  • ||

    """I have a filing cabinet full of this kind of stuff."""

    You need to find a safe place to stash it. Arson is not above these guys. They seem willing to escalate to whatever they believe is necessary to screw you.

    Best of luck.

  • ||

    I concur with the other commenters. Write abook, have reason throw up an add on the site, and your money troubles will be significantly alleviated. Let it be known that I'd certainly buy that book.

  • ||

    Do you have anything set up to take donations? I'm pretty poor, but I'd like to give what I can.

  • ||

    TrickyVic | July 14, 2008, 2:32pm | #
    """I have a filing cabinet full of this kind of stuff."""

    You need to find a safe place to stash it. Arson is not above these guys. They seem willing to escalate to whatever they believe is necessary to screw you.



    That's exactly what I was thinking. There is nothing below them, clearly.

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