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ACLU joins concert lawsuit

OREM — The Utah chapter of the ACLU has joined the federal lawsuit accusing the Utah County sheriff of wrongfully raiding two dance parties in Spanish Fork Canyon.

"What still worries us . . . is that this was an attack on the First Amendment," said Margaret Plane, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. "The government targeted a concert based on an association that the government makes with these kinds of concerts and drugs."

Plane and civil-rights attorney Brian Barnard will represent party promoters and attendees of the Spanish Fork Canyon parties that took place on July 16 and Aug. 20.

County officers say they were justified in breaking up the August concert because organizers lacked necessary permits. Officials also say undercover officers at the concerts spotted the sale and use of illegal drugs.

"With an event like that, with no adequate medical services, no water, inadequate restrooms, in a remote location with rampant drug use, that's inviting a real problem," said attorney Peter Stirba, who is representing the county in the suit.

Stirba says he doesn't mind the ACLU's decision to join the lawsuit.

"They're certainly entitled to (join)," he said. "It doesn't really change the underlying character of the case or the character of the facts. Obviously, we . . . feel quite comfortable with our legal position and believe that everything (the sheriff's office) did was justified."

A ruling last week by U.S. District Court Judge Dale Kimball denied a motion by concert organizers for a temporary restraining order against Utah County Sheriff James Tracy. The order would have prohibited Tracy from shutting down similar parties.

But the main concern of the ACLU is what it calls unjust stereotypes about electronic music parties and those who attend them.

"We'd like to make clear that electronic music concerts and raves are legitimate forms of artistic and cultural expression and can't be targeted because of unfounded associations," Plane said.

The ACLU Drug Law Reform Project — a national ACLU project — has taken interest in the case. The project focuses on the legal issues surrounding the growing phenomenon of electronic music and the young people who become "profiled and targeted" for listening to it, said Anjuli Verma, advocacy director of the national project.

"You don't see police raiding country music parties, frat parties and other places where young people are gathering," Verma said. "It's a conscious attempt by law enforcement to selectively target this type of music. For whatever reason, there's become this sort of connection to this type of music to drug use, which is unfounded."


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com