As police force gay gym members to lie naked on the floor at gun point, questions are asked as to whether this was “overkill” for an alcohol inspection.
Suspecting gym owner Ron Cordova of selling liquor without a license, the New Mexico State Police, supported by the Albuquerque fire marshal’s office stormed the gym and ran checks on all of its customers. One man was arrested on an outstanding warrant and five others were issued alcohol-related citations.
Following the raid, the fire marshal’s office ordered the building closed, citing “numerous fire code violations”.
The news website Gay.com report that a 57 year old man, Ronald spoke of his experiences that night in the gym; “There were about 35 of us there, and most were older men, some in their 70s, eating tacos and chatting,” Ronald said. “Most of us were fully dressed, because it’s a legitimate gym with a sauna, but not a bathhouse.”
“Suddenly, a SWAT team carrying semi-automatic weapons, plastic shields and latex gloves burst through the door and told us to get on the ground. They kept saying, ‘We’re not here for you’, but still they handcuffed us and kept us on the ground until they could run background checks on all of us. This took about an hour.”
He spoke of hearing “lots of laughter” coming from Police officers. “They were having a good old time. It was like the gay Abu Ghraib,” he said.
One man in his 70s was taken to hospital by paramedics, suffering from a panic attack.
State and local authorities have been cracking down on alcohol violations to curb drunken driving ever since Governor Bill Richardson took office in 2003.
“The officers were serving a search warrant and the fire marshal was there to inspect the building,” a spokesperson said.
“Any time there is a situation with a large number of people, officers will employ whatever tactics they need to maintain control of the situation.”
Alexis Blizman, executive director of Equality New Mexico, suggested that despite the State’s aggressive alcohol enforcement policy, the specific targeting of a gay gym and the amount of force employed raised some questions.
The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating to discover whether there was any breech of protocol. Its executive director in New Mexico, Peter Simonson described the raid as “extremely aggressive and reckless”. He said that he feared “the policy of cracking down on alcohol violations is giving police a pretext to target businesses they don’t like”.