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SXSW band's arrest raises questions about noise ordinance

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TWC News: SXSW band's arrest raises questions about noise ordinance
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Austin city leaders plan to re-examine the city's noise ordinance after members of a Grammy award-winning band Ozomatli were arrested on Sixth Street early Thursday morning.

The city ordinance prohibits loud outdoor music after 2 a.m. without a permit during South by Southwest. The band was playing at Exodus when the incident happened.

Drummer Jiro Yamaguchi was charged with third degree felony assault on a police servant, band manager Amy Blackman-Romero was charged with interfering and bass player Wil-Dog Abers was charged with violating the noise ordinance.

Band members say they were forming a conga line outside the Exodus club like they do at the end of all their concerts when they were confronted by police.

"This is our third time playing here at SXSW. We've been to Austin several times and at every one of our shows we go out. We take the crowd and we disperse the crowd into the street and somehow this one worked out different," band member Wil-Dog Abers said.

The band said Austin police overreacted. They say they were complying with the police order to go back inside Exodus when an officer grabbed Abers from behind.

At this point, the video shows officers trying to control the scene, eventually spraying pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

"At some point someone squirts mace, which sprays everybody, and then the crowd really panicked. As Jiro, the drummer said, 'when people get maced they're going to run' and there was no place to run," Ozomatli attorney Bobby Earl Smith said.

What took place next, according to police, was an officer got hit in the head with a drum, then the three were arrested.

"The officer that was hit by the drums feels it was intentional. There was another officer who witnessed the person hit him with the drums. Both state he hit him more than once," said Asst. Chief Cathy Ellison

The band members dispute that they hit any officer. However, the video doesn't clearly support either the police department's claims of assault or the band's innocence of the charge.

In the aftermath, partygoers were upset with police and shouting profanities.

The incident left Austin City Council member Brewster McCracken wondering if the noise ordinance is really worth the trouble during South by Southwest.

"The problem is, I don't believe with the police they were doing their job, what we do need to do is change the law … It's not in the city's best interest to arrest musicians for playing loud music during South by Southwest," McCracken said.

The police are quick to point out that this is just once incident.

"To rush and change one ordinance based on one event I think needs to be looked at more closely," Ellison said.

McCraken doesn't fault the police department for enforcing the ordinance. He believes the ordinance needs to be eased during South by Southwest and Austin City Limits Music Festival.

As for Ozomalti, three members face minor to serious charges. They're still trying to figure out what happened, but continue to play their music for South by Southwest.

Ozomatli is scheduled to play again Saturday at 8 p.m. at Stubb's. ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP