photo by Jack GouldWhen Robert Douglas went out Dec. 4 for a night of music and drinking at the House of Blues, he did just about everything right: he left his car keys at home, picked a designated driver and carpooled with buddies to see the industrial group Pigface. Then the 26-year-old legal assistant got drunk—knocked back a couple of beers on top of the two he had already downed at his Long Beach home and topped those off with a few shots of tequila from the House of Blues bar.
Then Douglas made a big mistake: after the show, he walked outside. An Anaheim police officer approached and asked if he'd been drinking. Douglas said, "Yeah, but it doesn't matter: I have a designated driver." The officer promptly handcuffed Douglas, charged him with being drunk in public, and put him in a squad car.
Douglas's friend Paul Klabo says police threatened to arrest him, too, when he tried to intervene.
"I wasn't even intoxicated," Klabo said. "But I think it's bad business for the House of Blues to sell alcohol when they know there are police sitting out front, waiting to take people straight to jail."
Indeed, the House of Blues has become the House of the Men in Blue. Depending on the performance, it has become standard procedure for Anaheim's Finest to post its men outside the club's doors, inspecting patrons and making a so-called "show of force" to deter any would-be troublemakers. Police officials say it's boring but important, designed to send a message to the club's patrons, one that many would-be revelers are learning the hard way: get shit-faced and you'll go to jail.
And not just jail. Police put Douglas in a one-person holding cell and released him at 3:30 a.m. He waited on the street for a ride home. On Jan. 10, Douglas pleaded guilty as charged, agreed to pay a $100 fine and a $151 "booking fee"—to cover his shower, cell and, perhaps, dry socks—instead of facing the prospect of a long trial and a much stiffer sentence.
Anaheim Police Department public information officer Sergeant Rick Martinez said that while police officers do not patrol the club daily, they often show up during performances—especially on weekend nights and certainly on those occasions when their presence is requested by club management.
"Cops do go down there; we do get calls of problems out there," said Martinez, who acknowledged police might arrest people for being drunk in public, but only when they display extremely aggressive or intoxicated behavior. "It's the House of Blues, for pete's sake: people drink there," he said. "They go to have a good time. We only arrest people in situations that involve boisterous or challenging behavior."
Numerous patrons who have recently visited the club say they have seen uniformed city police not only outside but also inside the House of Blues in recent weeks, sometimes just standing near the front door. At a recent Social Distortion concert at the club, two uniformed Anaheim police officers stood inside the lobby next to the souvenir shop. On another night, two cops were spotted pulling a pair of scruffy-looking teenagers out of the line at the entrance. "They just walked up to the line and pulled these kids out and whisked them away," one eyewitness said.
When hed(pe) and TiLo played a sold-out show at the nightclub on a recent Friday night, five uniformed Anaheim police officers guarded the entrance, eyeballing patrons, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the sprawling resort.
Some people who get arrested at the House of Blues truly deserve it, of course. Take the case of Kris Ellis, a 23-year-old Hemet resident. He attended a Megadeth performance at the House of Blues in September 2001. Like Douglas, he carpooled to the club, but he estimates he downed at least eight shots of tequila before he even left home. He says he drank at least "a couple of beers" at the club.
"I had a $170 tab at the bar," Ellis said. "But I don't think I could have done that all by myself."
Ellis said he and two other friends got so drunk that they relieved themselves while seated at the bar. "I peed at the bar—that's how drunk I was. Two or three other people with me peed as well. And then I kept ordering drinks for everybody."
Ellis remembers little else—other than waking up the next morning inside a holding cell at the Anaheim Police Department. Two weeks later, he pleaded guilty to being drunk in public. But after he apologized to the court, the judge dismissed the charges because Ellis had no criminal record.
"I'm not going back to the House of Blues," Ellis said. "There's too much security, too much hassle. Half the time, you get thrown out trying to have a good time.
"I probably had it coming, though."
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