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Owner asks judge to reopen skating rink closed for playing 'vulgar' music

By The Associated Press

08.03.00

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LAFAYETTE, La. — A federal judge must decide whether loud, angry and vulgar music breeds crime and violence. A prosecutor says it does.

But U.S. District Judge Tucker Melancon warned Iberia Parish District Attorney Phil Haney yesterday that the U.S. Supreme Court had established clear guidelines protecting First Amendment rights, even for juveniles.

Haney argued that charges brought against a skating rink owner and its manager for playing loud rap and hip-hop music is as much about a pattern of juvenile delinquency as about First Amendment rights protecting speech and expression.

The charges were brought following a Feb. 5 fight involving juveniles at the Skate Zone, near New Iberia. Iberia Parish deputies confiscated 60 compact discs containing a variety of music, including rap and hip-hop, and closed the rink. The seized CDs also included children's songs like "The Hokey Pokey" and Golden Oldies compilations.

Sheriff Sid Hebert said he would arrest owner Frank Torries and manager Tricia Boudoin again if they continued to play rap and hip-hop music.

Torries and Boudoin, who were accused of contributing to the delinquency of juveniles, filed a lawsuit that alleged their First Amendment rights were violated. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, they are asking Melancon to grant a preliminary injunction allowing them to reopen while the charges and their lawsuit are settled.

Melancon heard arguments yesterday on the merits of the request for a preliminary injunction. The hearing continues today and Melancon said he expects to rule later this week.

If granted, the injunction would let the skating rink again offer Saturday night rap and hip-hop skating events without the threat of arrests, force the sheriff's department to return the seized CDs, prevent further searches of the skating rink and prevent retaliation or harassment by the sheriff's department until the lawsuit is decided.

Haney argued that the charges against Torries and Boudoin stemmed largely from a pattern of criminal activity by juveniles attending the Skate Zone's Saturday night events. The activity included curfew violations, underage drinking and fights, Haney said.

Haney said the case raised issues about juveniles, how music affects children and problems facing law enforcement officers at the rink.

But Melancon stressed that the Supreme Court had established clear rules about the First Amendment protection of free speech and expression, and how those rules apply to law enforcement and the judicial system.

"You don't change the standard just because it involves minors," Melancon said.

But Haney argued there was room for interpretation when offensive music was played in the presence of children.

"It's not just a music issue. It's not just a First Amendment issue if you encourage people to fight and to stay out past curfew," Haney said.

"Nothing is more sacred than the First Amendment," Melcancon replied.

In a letter allegedly written by the sheriff to area pastors and entered into evidence yesterday, Hebert warned that music played at the Skate Zone was contributing to juvenile delinquency.

"The music that is being played in this establishment is not what we in this community want our children to be hearing," the sheriff wrote. "This music is demeaning toward women, includes racial slurs, strong vulgar language and lyrics with anti-law messages.

"The lyrics of these songs breed violence in the minds of our children then, unfortunately, they act out what was planted in their minds."

Boudoin testified that about 300 children, between the ages of 7 and 15 years old, attended the Feb. 5 public skate. When she saw the crowd growing, Boudoin said, she called for a third security guard and asked the sheriff's department to patrol the area. Nonetheless, fighting broke out, she said.

Commander Kerry Davis of the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Department recalled four "riots" at the Skate Zone since 1966, most involving more than 10 people. At one incident in 1998, he said, tear gas and attack dogs had to be used on a crowd of about 600.

Update

Federal judge orders Louisiana sheriff to return confiscated music
Court issues preliminary injunction, saying sheriff violated free-speech rights of skating rink owner arrested for playing 'vulgar' CDs.  08.29.00

Previous

Roundup: Former Louisiana governor cites gag order in call for re-trial
Other First Amendment news from around the United States.  07.12.00

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