Chess Organizer Vaughn Bennett jailed !

In a time of turmoil for the international chess body, the sport has brought its own brand of politics many times resulting in emotional exchanges and charges of one kind or another. However, chess is political even at the local levels and the city of Washington D.C. has been mired in a dispute over the future of scholastic chess. In a recent newspaper article by Dave McKenna, he reports that Vaughn Bennett, executive director of the Olympic Chess House was arrested for unlawful entry or trespassing onto the grounds of the U.S. Chess Center.

This action culminates several years of tension between Mr. Vaughn and
David Mehler, executive director of the U.S. Chess Center, a nonprofit group headquartered at 15th and M Streets NW. Mr. Vaughn has accused Mr. Mehler of racist tactics in his chess endeavors, but more pointedly, holds the notion that Mr. Mehler has chosen the Washington D.C. scholastic  champion unfairly. Mr. Vaughn's main contention surrounds the representation of player Johnny Sadoff for four consecutive years under what Mr. Vaughn deems as suspicious circumstances. Mr. Mehler categorically denies any favoritism and contends the Mr. Sadoff was won the City Championship for five consecutive years.

In a recent incident, Mr. Vaughn was arrested after entering the U.S. Chess Center. McKenna reports: 

"On the day of Bennett's arrest, Mehler was hosting a tournament for about 150 beginners when he heard that his longtime nemesis had entered the U.S. Chess Center. He says Bennett began disturbing young registrants with his "usual" rants about Mehler and Sadoff, and that before police arrived Bennett, approached him in a bullying manner and repeatedly set off a camera flash "inches from my face" "He knows he's not welcome here," Mehler says. "This wasn't the first time we've called the police on him. It was just the first time the police showed up."

The police arrived, took Mr. Vaughn off in handcuffs after which he spent a couple of days in various D.C. city jail cells before the count was dropped.  Mr. Mehler strongly denies Mr. Vaughn's charges, but admits that there is personal tension.  In the article, Mr. Vaughn contended that he was not aware that he was not welcome at the U.S. Chess Center, and made the trip only to get a refund for a chess set that he had purchased there. He admits "discussing" his problems with Mehler and Sadoff with people at the center and says he "may have" taken pictures of the chess players and Mehler, but denies acting like a bully.

This issue was a very unfortunate one and does not bode well for the chess atmosphere in D.C. There is apparently something wrong with both sides of the argument. There are no apparent winners in this case. In fact, the young chess players may be the biggest losers in having witnessed such a pathetic incident. Popularity of chess is on a steep incline amongst the youth and apparently the pending impasse could result in lasting damage if a resolution is not made in good speed. In this case, both sides believe they are 100% right (read the briefs below with the accompanying letters). Of course, this can't be the case, so wherever the differences lie must be settled promptly or any attempts to create a positive climate for D.C. scholastic chess will be tainted. Let's hope for the best.

Daaim Shabazz, "Racism in U.S. Scholastic Chess?"  The Chess Drum (27 July 2001).

Daaim Shabazz, "David Mehler answers charges of racism in DC Scholastic Chess," The Chess Drum (7 August 2001).

Dave McKenna, "In Chess, White Always Moves First," Washington City Paper, 5-11 April 2002.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 14 April  2002

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Update: Vaughn Bennett filed a 49-page lawsuit against the United States Chess Federation (USCF) and 24 other defendants in December 2005 charging that racism plagued a number of USCF-sponsored events. The defendants include current and past USCF officials, chess organizations, tournament directors, a university and a number of private businesses. The above case of Vaughn Bennett vs. the United States Chess Federation was dismissed after Judge Richard Leon stated his conclusion:

"Plaintiff, in his complaint, has outlined in detail what appears to be a long and tempestuous history between himself and defendant Mehler and the other defendants concerning the promotion of the game of chess in the District of Columbia. Notwithstanding, his frustration with the disagreements between the parties, plaintiff  either lacks standing to bring the current action against the defendants, is barred from bringing the action against the defendants, or fails to state a claim upon which  relief can be granted.* Therefore, for all the above stated reasons, defendants'  Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED. An appropriate order will issue with this memorandum opinion."

*This Memorandum Opinion does not reach the merits of defendants' claims that this action should be dismissed on statute of limitation grounds, lack of personal jurisdiction, or because the action is barred by Illinois statute. The plaintiff will be ordered to show cause as to why the current action should not be dismissed as to those defendants claiming lack of service of process through various defendants' motions.

This judgment was filed on July 7, 2006. Read judgment here.