Waits And The Cops

"The worst part was that I had to get up at 7 o'clock every morning.
I spent fifty bucks at J.C. Penny's. I looked like a shoe salesman for chrissakes."

J. [...](1) : "...My dad served as police officer in the 70's-80's and when I told him recently that I like Tom Waits, he told me this little story: My dad was called to go down to a massage parlor because there was some guy waving a knife. It was out of his district so they called another guy on it. That guy was killed when the loony took the gun out of his holster and shot him. Three days later was the funeral, thousands of radio cars, the mayor, all that. My dad was driving by the Tropicana Hotel where Tom Waits lived and out on the porch, looking right at the radio cars, Tom Waits and Chuck E. (2) were singing "I Shot the Sheriff" (3) loud enough for all the cars to hear. My dad never forgot that... Years later: There's a dispute at a bar. Chuck E. and Tom Waits are there. My dad and two other guys are called to check it out. Chuck E. makes a move like he's going for a gun and my dad pulls out his piece. Tom Waits jumps on my dad and the two cops and my dad beat Tom Waits down on the floor. Tom Waits sues, the county loses money".

Tropicana Motel (14)


Tom Waits Arrested In L.A.

Tom Waits and a friend, Chuck Weiss, were arrested May 27th for "disturbing the peace" at Duke's Tropicana Coffee Shop, a local hangout.

According to Waits, after a confrontation with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, he and Weiss were manacled, held at gunpoint and finally arrested. One of Duke's patrons phoned the police to protest the incident and at press time the Sheriff's Internal Investigations Bureau had begun an inquiry. According to the sheriff's report, Waits and Weiss came to the defense of a man who had crowded ahead of 3 plainclothes deputies in line at Duke's. The report states that "Suspects Weiss and Waits ... yelled to the unknown male, 'Hey man, I've got these dudes covered ...' and then told the deputies 'You guys want to fight? Come on.' Waits and Weiss went outside and when "the deputies exited the location, suspects Weiss and Waits assumed the combative stance with clenched fists, stating "Let's go at it.'" The deputies then identified themselves and, due to a "sudden movement" by Weiss toward his waistband, "grabbed his arms." Both suspects were placed under arrest.

Waits' version is that the three deputies picked fights with customers at Duke's. Waits, Weiss and a female companion(5) left and stopped outside to make a phone call. "The next thing they knew," said Herb Cohen, Waits' manager, "the cops came running out, pulled their guns, threw them down on the ground and handcuffed them. They told Chuck they were arresting them for homosexual soliciting and being drunk and disorderly."

At their arraignment June 8th, Waits and Weiss pleaded not guilty and asked for a jury trial, which was set for June 20th. "When we start taking the testimony of the witnesses, the police will look pretty stupid," stated Cohen, "They are going to get a little upset. But they deserve it." Tom Waits commented that "those guys must have gotten their dialogue from watching too many reruns of Dragnet."

(Source: "Tom Waits arrested in LA". Delores Ziebarth. Rolling Stone p.15. July 14, 1977)

Tom Waits (1977): "...I was framed," he said, "I've always had problems with the cops because of the way I look. I mean I've been charged with everything from child molesting to homiocide." In the case he says he was set up on disturbing the peace. A bum rap. "I never even had the chance to hit the guy, they had the cuffs on me before I could do anything." After a four-day trial he was acquitted."(16)

Tom Waits (1978): "...Actually I was trying to break up a fight. They accused me of everything from child molesting to homicide." He continued, "I had a four day jury trial to clear my good name. It was all truped up. Due process took its course. Now I'm suing three cops. The worst part was that I had to get up at 7 o'clock every morning. I spent fifty bucks at J.C. Penny's. I looked like a shoe salesman for chrissakes. I had to hire an attorney. It was a whole catastrophe, lock, stock, and bagels. It was a pain in the ass. Pain in the ass."(13)

Tom Waits (1978): "...It was a little humbug with three plainclothes policemen. I stepped in to settle a dispute between two table and got caught in the crossfire. From now on I'll keep my nose out of other people's affairs. It was real tacky; they grabbed us and threw us into phone booths and then the strings came up. [Waits breaks into the Jaws soundtrack] Juntada! Juntada! Juntada!. They put the cuffs on us and tossed us into the back of a green cab over a Datsun pickup. I thought we were takin' that Last Ride. Chuck said, "It sure is quiet," and I said, "It's too quiet." We were found not guilty of disturbing the peace."(15)

Random Notes

"Tom Waits and Chuck E Weiss were found not guilty in a unanimous decision by a 12 person jury on 2 charges of disturbing the peace. The verdict concluded a bizarre 3 day trial in which Waits' attorney, Terry Steinhart(10), presented 8 eyewitnesses who disputed the report of the original arresting officers and presented testimony of extreme abuse to Waits and Weiss by the deputies.

One witness, Mike Ruiz(11) of the rock group Milk 'n' Cookies testified that one of the plainclothes sheriffs had Waits in a headlock and was pounding his head into the side of a telephone booth. When Ruiz was cross examined by Deputy District Attorney Ronald Lewis, he was asked to reenact with Lewis what he saw. Lewis said, "I'll be the deputy and you be Waits and show me what happened." Ruiz replied, "No, you be Waits and I'll be the cop."

Judge Andrew J. Weisz was hard put to maintain decorum in the courtroom. Accused of challenging the deputies to fight and using profane language, Waits (uncharacteristically well groomed) testified that he had "growled a little under my breath. It was somewhere between a harrumph and a Bronx cheer."

Waits and Weiss have filed a claim against the county for false arrest, false imprisonment, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution and defamation of character. They are asking for $100,000 each in general damages and reimbursement of attorney fees and court costs."

(Source: "Random Notes". Rolling Stone p. 29-31. August 11, 1977)

Tom Waits (1993): "...Once I was jumped by four plain-clothes policemen. They all looked like they were from Iowa, wearing corduroy Levi jackets, tennis shoes, off duty. Grabbed me and a buddy of mine, threw us into the back of a Toyota pickup with guns to our temples. Guy says, "Do you know what one of these things does to your head when you fire it at close range?" He said, "Your head will explode like a cantaloupe." I thought about that. I was very still. They marched us down to the car, threw us in the back. I thought they were going to take us out to a vacant lot and shoot us in the head. They took us to the station where we spent the night. We'd been kind of mouthing off. But they were real belligerent, they'd taken over the tables of some people that we knew at the restaurant. They'd bullied their way into a table. We let 'em know that we didn't think it was the kind of thing that we do around here, and they didn't like that. Now I'm trying to learn how to be invisible. I haven't been pulled over since I moved out of L.A. I think it is possible to be invisible, certainly more in an area like this than it is in Los Angeles or New York City."(7)

Tom's Wait Is Finally Over
By Patrick Goldstein

There are 8-million stories in the naked city and this is one of them, starring singer Tom Waits versus the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

Almost five years, after being arrested on two counts of disturbrig the peace, the gravel-voiced singer has won a $7,500 award after filing a civil action for false arrest and false imprisonment against the Sheriff's Department. "Now I pick up the pieces and go on with my life:' said Waits, who wrote the music for Francis Coppola's "One From the Heart." "But it was a long pregnancy. Our legal system is like asking a dead stranger to come back from the grave, find sorne money and leave it to you."

On May 27, 1977, Waits and his pal Chuck E. Weiss were arrested outside Duke's restaurant in West Hollywood, a favorite Waits pit stop. The two musicians had been inside, drinking coffee, when they witnessed altercation between some fellow musicians and three plainclothes county deputy sheriffs. When Waits and Weiss left Duke's, Waits voiced his disapproval by saluting the officers with what he described as "an uncitizenlike Bronx cheer." Moments later, the officers rushed outside and arrested the duo for challenging to fight and fighting in a public place." As Waits put it, "They were wearing a corduroy Sears ensemble, but they were packing heat"

According to Waits' attorney, Terry Steinhart(10), the plainclothesmen "spread- eagled my client, threw a couple of rabbit punches and held a gun to the side of his head before handcuffing hirn and taking him to jail." After a jury trial in Beverly Hills Municipal Court that summer, Waits and Weiss were found not guilty of all charges. Subsequently, Waits filed the civil action that finally went to judicial arbitration earlier this year. After a three-day hearing, Waits won the $7,500 award, which his attorney says will be paid by the county Auditor's Office.

Maybe you can fight City Hall, but why was Waits willing to go through the five-year legal battle? There are so many people who feel powerless when it comes to dealing with institutions like the police who have unlimited authority," he sald. "I just felt like I'd take my own problem on as a project and see it through."

(Source: "Tom's Wait Is Finally Over", Los Angeles Times. March 14, 1982. P. K82)

Rolling Stone (1982): "I understand you just won a lawsuit against the LA Police Dept."
Tom Waits: "...Yeah, finally did. I was picked up at a restaurant by 3 cops and accused of challenging to fight, fighting in a public place, being drunk in public. It was insulting and embarrassing, so I felt it was my duty to make sure the record reflected the truth of the matter. It dragged on for 5 years before I got my day in court, with a little arbitration hearing, and I finally got a small settlement ($7,500)."(9)

Terran T. Steinhart (2001):(12) "...I represented Tom in both the defense of his criminal case, in which he was charged with assaulting Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs; and then in his civil lawsuit for monetary damages against the officers and Los Angeles County. At the time, I was a junior partner of attorney Martin Cohen, a music business attorney. He was the negotiator and I was the litigator in the firm, meaning I handled all the lawsuits and trials of our clients. Martin is the older brother of Herb Cohen, Tom's personal manager at the time. The story told by J. [...] reminded me of an interesting side note. During my first few years of practice, I was an associate attorney in the law firm of [...], Simke, Rutter, Green, Lasher & Hecht in Los Angeles. The senior partner was Sid [...], a very accomplished, successful attorney. The [...], Simke firm was affiliated with the well-known San Francisco law firm of Melvin Belli, a very famous personal injury trial lawyer, who was sometimes known as The King of Torts. While I was attending undergraduate school at UCLA, [...] and his partner Bill Rutter legally represented my parents in one or more business matters. Bill went on to be the founder of The Rutter Group, one of the most well-respected publishers of legal practice guides and materials for practicing lawyers. I use The Rutter Group materials daily in my own law practice. Anyway, Sid had a son who I believe was named Rob [...]. J. [...], who I had not heard of until visiting your website, is Sid's grandson. Unfortunately, Rob was one of the three deputy sheriffs involved in the false arrest incident at Duke's Restaurant, which was located in the Tropicana Motel where Tom lived at the time, and where Tom regularly had meals. After we won an acquittal in the criminal case, I represented Tom in the civil case against the three deputies and Los Angeles County. Sid [...] personally defended his son, Rob, in the trial of the civil case; and to the best of my recollection, the other deputies and the County were represented by another attorney. Because Sid was a lawyer with whom I had a positive history, and whom I respected as a top trial lawyer, it was a bitter-sweet experience to oppose him in that trial. Sweet, because I got the chance to cross swords and test my skills against an older lawyer who had been a mentor to me. Bitter, because one of the defendants was Sid's own son. I wished Rob [...] were not one of the three deputies. But as fate would have it, he was. I never saw Sid or Rob again after the trial. To my recollection, a few years ago, Rob ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Los Angeles. A few years ago, Sid passed away. Since those cases with Tom, I have seen him infrequently. I attended his wedding reception, which as I recall was in an Irish restaurant on Western Blvd. in Los Angeles. His bride's father, who had a good singing voice, sang a touching Irish song to his daughter, Kathleen. I ran into Tom once or twice at the courthouse several years ago, when he was involved in another lawsuit (not Frito Lay) which I heard he won. He has had good fortune in the courtroom. I have fond memories of Tom. I remember him as a kind, gentle person, with a sharp sense of humor; fun to be around. He was eccentric, and nonconformist in his thinking and life-style. But out of that personality flowed a well-spring of artistic wisdom and insight about human character and our life and times. I consider Tom to be one of the great popular songwriters of our time; and also very much enjoy his unique performance style."

Further reading:


(1) Posted to the alt.music.tom-waits newsgroup by J. [...]. January, 2000. Full name and exact date omitted for privacy reasons

(2) Original post has this spelled as "Chuckie D."

(3) Source: "I Shot The Sheriff", written by: Bob Marley, � 1974. Performed by Eric Clapton. It hit # 1 on the Top 40 charts in 1974

(4) Source: "Tom Waits arrested in LA". Delores Ziebarth. Rolling Stone p.15. July 14, 1977

(5) One would like this "female companion" to be Rickie Lee Jones, but according to Terran T. Steinhart it wasn't: "The female that was with Tom and Chuck during the police abuse incident was not Ricki Lee Jones. She was a friend of Tom, but I cannot remember her name." (E-mail message from Terran T. Steinhart to Tom Waits Library. May 19, 2001)

(7) Source: "Tom Waits Meets Jim Jarmusch". Jim Jarmusch. Straight No Chaser p. 21-35. Spring 1993. Conversation was recorded during a one week period in October of 1992 in and around Tom's house

(8) Source: "Random Notes". Rolling Stone p. 29-31. August 11, 1977

(9) Source: "Tom Waits on One From The Heart". Steve Pond. Rolling Stone p. 44. April 1, 1982. Posted to the Raindogs Discussionlist by Gary Tausch. February 7, 2000

(10) Terran T. Steinhart: "1974-1981: Associate of music business lawyer, Martin Cohen, then partner in Cohen and Steinhart, Hollywood. Handled all of the entertainment litigation, trials and appeals, and did some music business transactional work. Handled litigation matters for various music producers, personal managers, private record labels, songwriters and artists, including artists of note: Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Bobby Womack, Eric Burdon, George Duke, and John Mayall. The more memorable trials in this era include: representing Frank Zappa against Alice Cooper for breach of contract and unfair competition; representing Tom Waits against Los Angeles County for law enforcement abuse at Duke's Restaurant (nicknamed by Tom, Dukeing it Out at Duke's)." (Copied from: Steinhartlaw.com. Copyright Terran T. Steinhart 1999, All Rights Reserved)

(11) Mike (MIchael) Ruiz: Born and raised in New York. Played drums with "Milk 'n Cookies" (1975 debut LP on Island) and "Needles & Pins". Joined "The Beat" as it was formed in LA. Spent half a year as Music Director of KROQ-FM in LA. Made his departure from "The Beat" during the summer of 1980

(12) Source: E-mail messages from Terran T. Steinhart to Tom Waits Library. May 11/ May 19, 2001

(13) Source: "Nighthawks At The Chelsea": Modern Hi-Fi and Musics Sound Trax, by Larry Goldstein. New York. October, 1978

(14) The Tropicana as pictured on the cover for "Step Right Up: The songs of Tom Waits" (Manifesto Records, 1995). Picture credit: courtesy of Art Fein

(15) Source: "Sleazy Rider - A man who works at being a derelict". RELIX magazine by Clark Peterson. May - June, 1978. Vol. 5 No. 2.

(16) Source: "Tom Waits Lives His Haggard Vision And Survivers". Colorado Daily (USA). November 3, 1977. By Michael Zangari