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Another Weekend, Another Noise Ordinance Arrest

Submitted by GuestAuthor on June 12, 2012 – 2:00 pm17 Comments
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By: Erin Dyer

Houston’s Woodland Heights resident and homeowner, Lauren Garcia, 30, is fully aware and educated about Houston’s new noise ordinance. When she was arrested on her own property she decided to speak up and warn her fellow Houstonians about how far the Houston Police Department is willing to take this noise ordinance and stretch their power as law enforcers.

Garcia hosted her thirtieth birthday party at her house a few blocks outside of the Houston Heights on June 9. HPD crashed her birthday celebration around 11pm on account of an outdoor DJ playing loud music. After moving the music inside, the cops left only to return to the party about an hour later. Garcia says the cops crashed again, walked into her back yard, searched her house for drugs, and asked her to shut down the party. There were no drugs present on her property, and everyone at the party was of-age. No one was even out of hand or actin’ a fool. When Garcia refused to shut down the party and said they should simply ticket her and leave her property, HPD threw her in cuffs. While still handcuffed, she was escorted inside by an officer and ordered to inform her family, friends, and coworkers that they had to leave the premises, leaving Garcia feeling embarrassed and degraded. The cops told her they were only cuffing her for the purpose of intimidating the other party guests in hopes that they would begin to leave Garcia’s house.

Despite what they said about cuffing her for intimidation purposes, the officers soon proceeded to walk her to the cop car and put her in the back seat, claiming they were only going to keep her there until the party cleared out. Then the officers called their HPD sergeant and asked him if there were any charges on which they could arrest Garcia. After looking at her history and seeing multiple alcohol-related charges, she was taken into custody for intoxication, though she was on her own property and was administered neither a breathalyzer nor a sobriety test. Whether Garcia was indeed intoxicated or not…since when is it illegal to get wastey facey on your own property, anyways? Because most noise ordinance cases are dismissed, Garcia claims that they were trying to find any reason under the sun to arrest her, and intoxication was the easiest way out.

Garcia was taken to jail on the night of her birthday party and spent the night in the slammer until she was released at 1pm on Sunday, the next day. When her charges were presented in court that day, Garcia says the judge looked at the police report and laughed at the charges. Although she was originally taken into custody on behalf of intoxication, she was officially charged with two different, unrelated violations: violation of noise ordinance, and making noise known by sound and vibration. What the..?

Section 30-6(1) of Houston’s new noise ordinance states the maximum permissible sound level at a residential property may not exceed .58 dB(A) during nighttime hours. However, because the new ordinance does not require officers to use an official decibel meter to determine the sound level, it is left up to their own discretion (Yeah…because that makes sense.) Garcia is upset about the whole situation and thinks HPD took the noise ordinance way too far. As a Houstonian and a former DJ herself, she wants to voice her opinion on the noise ordinance.

This is one of countless examples and personal testimonies that show the unjust nature of Houston’s new sound ordinance. It seems that HPD needs another excuse on which to exert their power as law officials, and the noise ordinance presents a perfect opportunity for them to keep Houstonians on their toes, and maybe even push them around a little.

17 Comments »

  • Dean P says:

    Sounds like all of it could have been avoided if she had toned down the party - it was obviously disturbing others. How is this the cops’ fault?

  • MoLT says:

    My neighbors throw innocent parties like that, but they get permits just so this doesn’t happen to them. Can’t just live life…gotta stay a step ahead

  • Jim says:

    You might want to remove the decimal point from in front of “.58 dB(A)”. If that is in fact what the statute reads, pretty much everyone who is a) not dead or b) is dead and being eaten by bugs would be in violation of the ordinance.

    .58 dB(A) is effectively inaudible by normal humans. :) Per http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/sound-pressure-d_711.html, “Virtual silence” rings up 10 dB.

  • JoeyP says:

    I recently recently had a run in like this on my street. A house here is known to throw some “wild parties” with little to no regard of their sound levels, either musically or vocally. After the ordinance passed and they threw a party, I was like cool good for them. I shut my doors and windows. They were vibrating my concrete floor from 4 houses away. I called HPD and an officer that responded said that they had a permit until 11pm. I was like “Nice, they got smart!” At 11:05pm, they were still going strong and I called again. This time, I got action. I was tired of listening to their music and listening to their conversations, which had been going on since early in the day.

    Needless to say, I am satisfied with the new ordinances. They are working how they are supposed to be working. The above story, well I am sure we are not getting the full story from Ms Garcia about what transpired, and we probably never will. I caution everyone when I read something about this…. before you go saying “Police with too much power” and “Abusive police”, what exactly happened for them to react in the way they did. We all know that first hand and eye-witness accounts can be skewed, as can some video through editing. Just stop and think, “Is this person telling us the truth and are we seeing the full picture in the story?”

  • James W says:

    Having been a witness to several police dealings with the noise ordinance, I can also say the converse of Joey P’s statement is true. Never ever think the police will not abuse their authority. Never write off a witness’ account with “we’re probably not getting the whole story”. Always suspect the cops, because they have all the power, and they know it. I have seen them abuse this power in the name of the noise ordinance, and the strategy of arresting someone on obviously spurious charges just to punish them for standing up for their rights against the police is a common one now. The police are not, as a whole, criminals, but they protect their own, and a lot of them get carried away with their authority, and their demand that the common citizenry defer to it. That’s the main reason this ordinance is so dangerous; it gives them subjective authority to dispense tickets and arrests with impunity, without having to prove anything. And they’re using it every chance they get.

  • doolittle says:

    This article while detailed, has only convinced me that a typical rowdy party went on too late and was too loud and the police came in to do their jobs …if you are difficult or get in the way of hpd doing their job, I wouldn’t be surprised if you get arrested. You absolutely can be arrested in your home if you exhibit harassing behavior (but I don’t know what the case is here- i wasn’t there.) Sad that this article was even written. Living in a neighborhood, if my neighbors threw a loud party that went on past 11, I would want the police to shut it down. I do not feel sorry for this woman, nor do I think this relates to other incidents with noise ordinances and clubs in nonresidential neighborhoods where bands are paid to play and patrons pay to attend. if HPD comes to my house after 11pm and says shut your party down .. I say yes sir and yes mam and shut it down. Period.

  • Leeloo says:

    It is completely unfair. None of the neighbors obviously called if the cops were trying to peg her on something. If everyone was of age, why didn’t the guests speak up? If the new ordinance is supposed to be based on the auditory skills of the Houston Police, then Houstonians, you are screwed.

  • Kim H. says:

    All of the above posters need to get a life. If Garcia was having a party on her own property and moved the loud music inside, there was no reason for the cops to be at her door the second time. I’m guessing some busy-body neighbor (such as JoeyP) called the cops again and got them back out there. Regardless, unless there is MUCH more to this story, they had no right to cuff Garcia or charge her with anything. She has a right to be intoxicated at her own party on her own property.

    Of course, there would be no real need for a sound ordinance if Houston had zoning laws because that would take care of problems coming from loud clubs. As far as calling the cops on someone at 11 pm on a Saturday because you are tired of “listening to their music and listening to their conversations.” Wow. Get a life. Move back to the suburbs. We do not want you in the Heights. At what point did people begin thinking that they have the right NOT to be annoyed by others? Ridiculous.

    Furthermore, id is also ridiculous that the cops are not required to use a decibel meter to ascertain how loud something actually is. Leaving this up to the very subjective opinion of individual cops invites abuses of power.

  • MayorOfMontrose says:

    While I agree that you only hear one side of the story here, if you have been paying attention to things that happen outside of your own street or neighborhood, you would know that her story lines up extremely well with the MANY other incidences involving the HPD enforcement of the new sound ordinance. People are literally being arrested on their fist encounter/visit from the HPD. I am thankful you have not had that happen to you but it HAS happened and I assure you that those people who have had their liberty stripped from them without warning believe that the new ordinance is NOT working how it SHOULD be. Your mileage may vary.

  • brian says:

    I have a job and it requires me to be alert and functional very early in the morning. Im a nurse and do you really want me, or even worse, a doctor that might live down the street from you, to be drowsy or cranky when making important medical decisions on your friend or family just because you wanted to listen to dubstep all night? Turn it down and let grown folks sleep.

  • sean says:

    @ Joey P.

    I guess we know why you\’re never invited to the party!
    Jealous much? Whiney baby!!

    Instead of complaining, just go join the party, if you\’re not a complete dick, they would probably love to have you!

    on the other hand, you are the guy that calls the cops because you can\’t hear american idol

  • Cwize says:

    JoeyP,
    The ordinance worked for you, congratulations. The problem is, no measurable data is collected to prove any dB level in violation of said ordinance. Whether or not police are “abusing authority” is just a by-product of a horribly written law. It has to be changed. You are correct that we’ll never know the full story because no proof of any violation was recorded. It’s arbitrary, and it’s ruining livelihoods, and certainly this lady’s birthday - how would you like to spend the night in jail just because a cop decided he wanted to throw you in? The charges were thrown out, but this lady has suffered the humiliation and trauma of a night in the slammer for no reason other than an officer’s mood at the moment. That ain’t how law enforcement is supposed to work outside of rural Louisiana.

  • Abused neighbor says:

    Sounds like she asked for it. All you need is to have one really habitually noisy neighbor to appreciate HPD on this one.

  • Morning Links | The Agitator says:

    [...] Houston has a noise ordinance that leaves what is and isn’t a lawful level of noise completely to the discretion of police officers. Shockingly, there’s some evidence that some officers might be abusing their noise-assessing authority. Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark [...]

  • Franklin says:

    Law Enforcement is the largest criminal class in the United States. The safest bet is to try to avoid them at all cost (it may even save your life) but that’s almost impossible.

  • WBG says:

    Your rights end where mine begin. And vice versa. That is the way our country was founded. But that was also back in a time where property rights were still in effect (King of my Castle) and people lived miles away from each other, not stacked on top of each other. So if you want to have your music loud then sound proof your house from leaking outdoors and blow your ear drums out. But once you keep me from sleeping then that is not cool. What if your loud music costs me a new job because your loud music kept me up all night? What if it causes me to get in an car accident because I can’t keep my eyes open the next morning. Your actions have effects on others. While I disagree with the new sound ordinance, I think that people should have respect for their neighbors. After all, we all have the right to live where we want to live. Vett your neighbors if you plan on throwing large parties all the time with loud music. After all take some responsibility for your own actions.

  • Police abuse their authority? | On the Mark says:

    [...] see by Radley Balko that: Houston has a noise ordinance that leaves what is and isn’t a lawful level of noise completely to the discretion of police [...]

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