1976: Arrest in Rochester

David Bowie’s Isolar Tour took place in the early months of 1976. On Saturday 20 March it stopped at the War Memorial Arena in Rochester, New York.

After the show Bowie held a party in his three-room suite at the Flagship Americana Hotel, inviting two women he had met at the hotel bar.

As the party continued into the early hours of the following morning, the women revealed themselves to be undercover narcotics officers. At 2:25am four vice squad detectives and a state police investigator arrested and charged Bowie, Iggy Pop, bodyguard Dwain Vaughns, and a 20-year-old local woman, Chiwah Soo, on suspicion of possessing 182 grams of marijuana.

Marijuana possession was a class C felony, which carried a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment.

Rest assured the stuff was not mine. I can’t say much more, but it did belong to the others in the room that were busted in. Bloody potheads. What a dreadful irony — me popped for grass. The stuff sickens me. I haven’t touched it in a decade.
David Bowie
Playboy, September 1976

Bowie, Pop, Vaughns, and Soo were held for several hours at the Monroe County jail. Bowie gave police his real last name, Jones, and listed his address as 89 Oakley Street, London, England.

Defence lawyer Thomas G Presutti contacted the district attorney, who recommended bail at $2,000 each. The sum was approved by County Court Judge Andrew Celli at about 7am. Bowie’s bail was ordered in cash, and $2,000 in bond was set for the others. All were then released.

The tour continued for three more dates, in Indiana, Connecticut, and New York. After the latter show Bowie, Pop, and Vaughns were driven back to Rochester, where they arrived at 4am the following morning.

On 25 March, at Rochester City Court, the four defendants all pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal possession of marijuana. The arraignment lasted just 10 minutes, as a crowd of around 200 fans, reporters and police officers looked on.

The case was adjourned to 20 April. Judge Cassetti allowed Bowie to remain free on bail, and continued the $2,000 bonds on the other three defendants.

Before leaving court, Bowie’s mugshot was taken. The photos were salvaged in 2007 from an estate sale of retired Rochester police officer Gary Hess, who hadn’t realised the value of the images.

David Bowie's police mugshot, 25 March 1976

The North American leg of the Isolar Tour ended on 26 March, with a concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The following day Bowie and Coco Schwab set sail for Cannes.

Bowie had reached Europe by the date of the final court hearing. His drugs charge was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanour, which meant the maximum possible punishment was reduced from 15 years to one year in prison.