Hassles in the Glades

Step Away from the Vehicle, Sir

The music was superb at Langerado Music Festival this year, and the mood was mellow — once you got in.

Last week on the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, 17 miles north of Alligator Alley, you had to run a gauntlet of beefy security workers to enter the festival.

Owen on the set (we think)
Deirdra Funcheon
Owen on the set (we think)

Tailpipe doesn't favor unfettered drug use at outdoor festivals any more than broken bottles or guns. Still, the methods that apparently were used at Langerado to try to block drugs and other contraband weren't just ineffective, as shown by the ganja aromas on the grounds and the folks peddling 'shrooms there. They were also allegedly as twisted as a bad acid trip.

Security workers randomly selected cars to toss, festivalgoers complained. The guards threatened freewheeling music fans with arrest. They even seized barbecue implements. OK, and some drugs, too.

Langerado organizers say they arranged for two private firms to handle festival security, one from Atlanta and the other from Miami, although they declined to name the firms. Any searches were conducted under the supervision of Seminole police, they added.

Despite such reassurances, one 32-year-old attendee — we'll call him Chris — says he believes there was some serious funny business going on at Big Cypress. Chris arrived Saturday morning in an SUV and was selected for a search. A security worker confiscated a pot pipe as Chris watched, he says; then the worker slipped the pipe into his own pocket.

He didn't like the look of the security workers. "These guys were real rednecky," he says. "They acted like the kind of guys who'd start drinking cheap beer at nine o'clock in the morning."

Concerned that the security staff were "robbing everybody's pot," Chris refused to hand over his bag for inspection. Also, he had illegal substances in his bag — nothing major, he says, but illegal nonetheless.

A Seminole police officer told him that if he ditched his stash in the woods, he could go into the festival, he says. While he was busy in the woods, the rest of his group passed through the gates; when Chris returned to the gates, clean, the same Seminole officer told him he couldn't go in. The officer suggested that Chris walk to the nearest gas station, which was way down the road. From there Chris managed to flag down some hippies in a van who drove him to Fort Lauderdale in return for a $90 contribution to their gas tank.

He says you won't catch him near Langerado again.

Were the Langerado security workers really filling their pockets?

No way, says Langerado security chief John Langenstein. Any illegal substance that was confiscated by Langerado security workers "was turned over to Seminole police."

Langerado co-founder Mark Brown says he doubts that festival security workers stole or hoarded drugs. In fact, they were commendable, doing their best to find banned items. After all, he says, "there are rules."

And Chris? "Sorry," Brown says, "that person was doing something illegal."

Baker Strikes Back

After nearly four years in prison for grabbing the hand of a sheriff's deputy who was about to deal him a knuckle sandwich (assault on a police officer, they call that), Donald Baker is out. And looking to get his.

Tailpipe has been following Baker's case for more than three years now, ever since he learned how the 52-year-old electrician got busted on a Hollywood street corner for allegedly drinking in public, then got involved in a jailhouse altercation with a couple of deputies. The main piece of evidence used against him was a jury-rigged videotape that purportedly showed Baker assaulting an officer in a police lock-up. There were mysterious lapses and leaps on that tape, disguising the fact, Baker said, that it was he who was being assaulted by a deputy.

Despite the faulty tape, Judge Michael Gates sentenced Baker to five years in prison, saying, in effect, sure, go ahead and appeal — but go to jail first.

Now the 55-year-old Baker, with a lot of help from his stepfather, John McNamara, a retired paralegal, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, naming everyone involved in his case, including the City of Hollywood, Officers Francis Hoeflinger and John Graham, and Broward County. Baker is seeking $10 million in damages.

In a Denny's off State Road 7, not far from where this all began, McNamara and Baker, who was released in November, sipped coffee recently and discussed Baker's suit. McNamara wore faded slacks and a lavender shirt — his suit-serving outfit for the past few days, he said. By day, McNamara is now a drawbridge tender; by night, he's Erin Brockovich, except not as pretty and not a woman.

McNamara and Baker concur that they're not so much angered as astonished by Baker's case, including a series of softball continuances that Judge Gates gave prosecutors in pursuit of Baker, as well as Baker's public defender failing to present evidence that the videotape of the fight had been doctored.

Baker becomes animated as he reviews his travails. He's working now, but he's still having problems with the law. Since his release he's been arrested again by Hollywood police, a couple of times, he says, for minor stuff. It ain't over.

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