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Concert promoters want sheriff reined in

James Tracy
James Tracy

Concert promoters who say officers illegally raided and closed down two dance-and-music events must wait a week to find out if a judge will grant their request for a temporary restraining order against the Utah County sheriff.

In U.S. District Court Friday, Brian Barnard, the attorney representing the event promoters, asked Judge Dale Kimball to approve the request for the order, which would prohibit Sheriff James Tracy from shutting down similar parties in the future.

Barnard argued that Tracy and other officials illegally raided two DJ music concerts on private land in Spanish Fork Canyon. He told the judge that the officers came into the July 16 and Aug. 20 events like "storm troopers."

County officials said they entered the event because party organizers did not obtain a county-issued permit for large public gatherings. Such a permit is required for any "reasonably anticipated assembly of 250 or more people which continues or can reasonably be expected to continue for 12 or more consecutive hours," according to Utah County code.

County officials also later cited illegal drug sale and use, improper security procedures and noncompliance with Utah County health-permit requirements, according to documents filed Thursday by the attorney for the county in federal court.

However, Barnard's argument focused on this question: Who had the right to "reasonably anticipate" whether an event would take 12 or more hours?

Barnard said his clients — Brandon Fullmer with Uprock Inc. and Nick Mari with HiPoint Entertainment — had no intention of going longer than the 12-hour limit.

"They're telling us the sheriff has the ability to determine what the promoter is thinking," Barnard said. "So the sheriff . . . using some clairvoyant power . . . closed the concert."

But officials had obtained evidence that allowed for an informed decision, according to Peter Stirba, an attorney representing Utah County in the lawsuit.

"If Sheriff Tracy has no information about how long (a party) will go, it would be pretty stupid to make a judgment to shut it down within three hours," Stirba said.

"(But) here are the facts. There wasn't clairvoyance. The sheriff had facts to do what he did."

Those facts included information that the party organizers leased the Spanish Fork land for 24 hours and applied for a 24-hour county health permit, as well as advertised camping for interested parties, Stirba said.

However, permit-issues aside, Stirba said there was a "myriad of other reasons" why law enforcement could have shut the event down, which included health code violations, drug usage and sales and the noticeable absence of first aid stations.

Without the restraining order, Barnard said, his clients' First Amendment rights are affected. He asked that the judge help protect the constitutional rights of those who plan and participate in future concerts. Organizers said they are in the planning stages for a concert they hope to have in Utah County within a month.

Concert attendees were at the Frank E. Moss federal courthouse and said they plan to keep coming to the legal proceedings to offer support.

One attendee, Derek Besse, a new employee with Salt Lake-based HiPoint Entertainment, was handling parking when officials first arrived. He described the scene as "hectic."

"It didn't look like the (officers) were even thinking," he said. "It was like . . . a 'Rambo' mission."

He said the situation is frustrating because organizers had been trying to do everything legally, including complying with the county health code by providing water and other necessary requirements of the health code permit.

Concert organizers acknowledged that some attendees brought drugs to the event. But they also said they hired security officers to confiscate anything they could find and included a note on the tickets warning people not to bring illicit substances.