Look Out, Sin City!

Captain Mary Wamsley is her name. Commerce City vice is her game.

City councilwoman Sheri Szymanski says the first reading of the ordinance was passed by the city council last month based upon Wamsley's presentation. Both Grimm and Payne claim that they were not informed of the reading until after it occurred. Wamsley counters that the city advertised the meeting in the local paper The Express. Whatever the case, both Grimm and Payne worried that if the ordinance was approved after its second reading, they would be out of business. But the city council postponed a final vote on the ordinance after opponents packed the council chambers at a May 19 meeting. Grimm testified angrily about how the proposed law would ruin him financially. In the back of the room, a collection of vocal Landing Strip and Femme Fatale employees cheered Grimm on, shouting out, "Right on, man!" when he suggested that if the council really wanted to crack down on sexual activity, it should focus on the city's truck stops and motels.

The council finally decided to put off a decision until its June 16 meeting, at which no public comment on the issue will be allowed.

"I've been so stressed out that I had to take off and get out of town," says Grimm. "My livelihood is going straight down the tubes if this ordinance passes. My customers are going to go somewhere else where they can sit at the bar and talk to the girls. I've been open for thirteen years and have never had a problem until these two women showed up. I just can't understand why they're doing this to me. It's like a vendetta."

Wamsley insists that the proposed law isn't personal. "This ordinance is not designed to go after any one business," she says. "We had a shotgun approach to regulating adult entertainment, and as a result it was difficult to enforce violations in the past."

What violations, ask Payne and Grimm? "The city is claiming that we're a center for prostitution and narcotics," says Payne, "but if that was true, we would have been closed down years ago. I've been here nine years, and I've never had a violation."

Grimm says that in the past he's always had a good relationship with the Commerce City Police Department, while other bars in the area have had chronic problems. Sergeant Larry Woog agrees that Grimm has always been very cooperative. "As far as I know, we've never had a problem with [Grimm]," says Woog. "It's been a good working relationship. I wouldn't call the Landing Strip a hot spot."

Captain Wamsley and Officer Aragon seem to feel differently. Payne says that while Wamsley and Aragon might not have anything against her personally, "they've definitely got something against the adult-entertainment business."

Before joining the Commerce City force, Wamsley was a sergeant with the Lakewood Police Department, where she helped craft a similar ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses. The difference in Lakewood was that there weren't any such businesses in existence when the ordinance was passed. According to Lakewood vice-squad detective Ray Knott, there still aren't any strip joints. It's not hard to figure out why. Wamsley relates a story about a person who wanted to open a strip club while she was still working in Lakewood. "We sent him a copy of our ordinances," she says, "and after he looked at them, he called us back and said, 'You must be kidding,' because of how strict they were."

Wamsley and Officer Aragon, who has been with Commerce City for two years, have made sure that Commerce City's businesses know they're not joking around.

"I've had quite a few cops check our place out over the years," says Payne, "but I've never had problems like the ones I've had with Officer Aragon. Other officers ask first if they can search the place and are very polite. She [Aragon] comes in and is very intimidating and rude."

Grimm says Aragon came into the Landing Strip nightly during a two-month period earlier this year. "Every night, she'd go behind the bar and check my liquor license, as if that would've changed since the day before," says Grimm. "Then she'd go into the dressing room and just stand there for like thirty minutes checking out the girls. Finally, I put a combination lock on the door to the dressing room and she busted it. I made a formal complaint to the police department, but nothing happened."

The 34-year-old Aragon says that Grimm's accusations about her misconduct in his bar are "100 percent false" and that she was only in his bar "half a dozen times" during the course of routine patrols. "I don't have the time to be going into his bar every night," she says. "And the times that I went into the dressing rooms was when I had heard that there was drug activity going on in there. And in those three or four instances, I was only in there long enough to take a quick look so as to determine that there weren't any drugs present. I was never in there more than fifteen to thirty seconds."

Wamsley defends Aragon's actions. "There was nothing extraordinary about Officer Aragon's investigation," says Wamsley. "She had good reason to suspect alcohol violations, so in the course of her duty, she felt the need to go into the dressing rooms. And drug violations tend not to go on in public. The one time I went down to the Landing Strip personally, I saw two kids trying to get in there with the worst fake ID's I'd ever seen. The place attracts that kind of activity."

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