Clifford, who is white, was vocal in the last decade about his club's problems with the cops, and his concerns made local papers, including The Stranger. The federal case, however, is likely to bring those concerns into sharper focus. Thanks to the trial, The Stranger was able to obtain documents that show just how strong his case is.
The crux of Clifford's lawsuit is simple: Using hiphop as a euphemism for blacks, city officials were racist in their effort to dictate what could be played at various clubs.
Among other things, court documents show that the police kept "project progress reports" detailing their systematic attempts to shut Jerseys down. The notes and letters among city officials in the case file also show that the city kept its eye on other black clubs--building a case that the attitude about Jerseys was part of a larger pattern of prejudice. The city did not comment on the case.
Seattle civil rights attorney David Osgood, who worked on the case in its early years, says the suit against the city is solid. "The evidence is conclusive. It is in the police department's own writing, the how-to cookbook of harassing a business out of existence... for catering to African Americans," he says.
Clifford sued back in 1995, and may finally see his day in court on October 18. However, the city still has a motion pending to avoid a jury trial.
The city has good reason to be afraid of a trial. The following gems culled from the case file might indicate to the public that institutional racism exists in Seattle, opening the door for other lawsuits.
Handwritten Notes from City Council Member Margaret Pageler's office, dated 1992.
"Black gangs hanging out are the problem.
You can control the kind of people that come in:
By music you play
By people you let in
By police presence
Hip-hop nights attract a boom-box crowd.
Club patrons are not residents of the area."
Mark Sidran's letter to representatives of the Mezzanine nightclub [another club that had a large minority clientele], dated December 5, 1994.
"If your client intends... to continue playing a music format which they have argued throughout the hearing as a reason for the violence, the City will not postpone the nuisance abatement hearing."
Mark Sidran's comments to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, dated January 11, 1994.
"There is a relationship between a format that draws young African-American males and gunfire and violence on the streets. This music format in late-night, after-hours clubs is associated with criminal acts inside and outside the club.
"We have not said 'change the music format.' But we have pointed out the obvious problems with it."
SPD project progress record maintained by Officer Christine Batdorf that logged the efforts to shut down Jerseys.
"July 17, 1992. They [tenants upstairs from Jerseys] both state that Jersey's is getting better. They feel that because of all the attention that Jersey's was getting the crowd has moved on. I have had information that the crowd may be moving to Belltown. Belltown has recently made changes to after hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Their music format is R and B music."
SPD Memos, Letters, and Notes
From Assistant Chief R. Skagen to Captain P. Munter, dated January 13, 1992, regarding Jerseys. Two officers visited the club three days later to discuss the business' license.
"The patrons are all described as young, black males that have created havoc in the neighborhood particularly between the hours of 2:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. when they leave the location."
From Sgt. R. Garner to Sgt. M. Olson, dated January 28, 1992, regarding Jerseys.
"Our main problem with the place is on Friday and Saturday nights when they cater to a primarily rap crowd and stay open until 3 a.m."
From Lt. D. Vandergiessen, not dated.
"Please review the attached memo regarding the music format change at the Pier 70 nightclub. I'm not sure what we can do about this, but perhaps Jan Drago might be interested in knowing about it. Maybe we could contact the manager and express our concerns about this format, and at least see if they are aware of the problems that come with it."
Letter regarding Sharky's, a club that offered R&B one night a week and closed in 1997, from Officer Jim Van De Bogart, dated September 26, 1995.
"I am not sure how this problem is going to be resolved short of... [changing the] entertainment format, thus changing the clientele that is disruptive."
Community Police Team notes regarding the Iguana Cantina, a club that took over the former Pier 70 bar location, offering R&B music on the weekends, dated February 7, 1997.
"[Iguana operating manager Sharon] Fedde needs to come up with viable alternatives instead of the Hip Hop and R & B music on the Friday and Saturday nights. Ms. Fedde has not given any reasonable suggestions on a different type of music on the weekends."
"Problem Solving Process" notes on Oscar's restaurant, another establishment with a strong black clientele.
"Is the type of music that's being played attracting the 'wrong crowd?'"
Jerseys All-American Sports Bar, which opened in 1991, changed their music format and eliminated the rap and R&B music in 1992 to stay open without harassment. The damages Clifford is seeking in Judge Robert S. Lasnik's U.S. District courtroom would cover the business lost when he was forced to change his entertainment.