"Phil, Frank, You just declared my business, an art gallery, illegal and sent in a half dozen regulatory and violations officials with armed police officers. What is going on?
Esser and Dach had applied months before for a $20,000 city grant to spruce up eye lounge. But when city staffers checked their records, they determined that eye lounge didn't have a "certificate of occupancy," which was necessary not only to get the grant but to operate as an art gallery. A staffer fired off an e-mail August 4 -- just one day before Black Friday -- telling Esser he ought to hire a "design professional" and figure out "the best route to take in order to use this structure legally."
As it turned out, Esser's frustration over the certificate of occupancy issue was justified. As Esser showed city officials the following day, he had documents dating from 1949 showing the city had approved the space.
Officials didn't have a chance to respond to Esser and accept the explanation before First Friday.
And so Esser was still in limbo when the bureaucrats and cops showed up at eye lounge. He was angry before. He was even angrier after.
The nuance of all this was lost in the heat of the artists' response to August 5. Esser's "stormtrooper" e-mail was forwarded from bureaucrat to bureaucrat. As a recently departed city bureaucrat himself (he used to work for the Office of Arts and Culture), Esser was a particularly powerful political influence. City officials scrambled to explain what they'd known and when they'd known it.
Mostly, that meant letting the cops take the fall.
In a memo to the mayor and city council, City Manager Frank Fairbanks explained that the police had asked other city departments to show up. "This effort was not planned or directed by the Mayor's Office, the City Council office or the City Manager's office," he wrote.
Bill Scheel, senior assistant to the mayor, went further than that. He told New Times on August 11, "In terms of the mayor, the council, the city manager's office, we were all caught by surprise again by the multi-jurisdictional nature of the activity."
To be fair, Scheel was on vacation until August 5. But, as city documents make clear, his statement is not precisely true. Rumors about a "rogue cop" who simply marshaled the city's (and county's) forces and let loose on First Friday gave way to admissions that, yes, both the city manager and the Mayor's Office were aware all along of what was to take place.
More than a week before the event, in fact, the mayor's senior deputy chief of staff, Ed Zuercher, e-mailed Assistant City Manager Sheryl Sculley to ask if she knew what was up. She did, she e-mailed back, and added that her boss, City Manager Fairbanks, wanted to make sure there was no directive to the police department not to enforce.
Zuercher agreed. "The Mayor is fully supportive of Police enforcing the law and people having to abide by building codes, environmental codes, parking, public behavior and liquor laws," he wrote. "How we handle the communication is going to be the key, making sure that . . . everyone has fair warning that laws will be enforced and having the arts community be part of the solution for their patrons."
Another assistant city manager, Peter Van Haren, also e-mailed more than a week before the event to discuss a meeting with the police department "to make sure we are in agreement on what the plan is for the next first Friday on 8/5."
But though city officials had some inkling what the cops were planning, it's also clear that the idea and the execution all came from Jeff Hynes, precinct commander for central Phoenix.
Hynes had first grown concerned about the event much earlier in the summer.
While night shift beat cops from the Central City Precinct routinely patrolled First Fridays in small numbers, prior to August, Hynes says the department brass weren't aware of the full extent of activity. After receiving complaints from residents and repeated pleas for assistance in handling the event from officers over the past year, Hynes had dispatched Community Action Officer Scott Melander and Lieutenant Anthony Vasquez to attend First Friday on June 3 to scope out the situation.
"They said, 'Holy smoke, we've got 10,000 people out there, juveniles drinking, there's fire being thrown when there are kids right there, we've got nude body painting that's drawing quite a crowd,'" says Hynes. "'Marijuana being smelled in the air, no trash receptacles, people urinating, and even defecating in public. There was no structure to this event.'"