It’s Still 1952 In East Baton Rouge (Updated)
July 29th, 2013
That was the year that Dale Jennings, a co-founder of the Mattachine Society, was arrested in his own home for allegedly soliciting an undercover police officer for immoral purposes. But unlike nearly everyone else who was arrested for trumped up charges regardless of whether the intended sexual acts were between consenting adults in the privacy of their own home, Jennings fought the charges and won. Since then, sodomy laws have been declared unconstitutional and the legal basis for prosecuting consenting adults in their own homes has been absent in all fifty states and territories since 2003, when the Supreme Court declared those laws unconstitutional.
But the sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, is still partying like it’s 1952:
As the two men moved their chat to a picnic table, the deputy propositioned his target with “some drinks and some fun” back at his place, later inquiring whether the man had any condoms, according to court records. After following the deputy to a nearby apartment, the man was handcuffed and booked into Parish Prison on a single count of attempted crime against nature.
There had been no sex-for-money deal between the two. The men did not agree to have sex in the park, a public place. And the count against the man was based on a part of Louisiana’s anti-sodomy law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court a decade ago.
The July 18 arrest is among at least a dozen cases since 2011 in which a Sheriff’s Office task force used the unenforceable law to ensnare men who merely discussed or agreed to have consensual sex with an undercover agent, an investigation by The Advocate has found.
The District Attorney refused to prosecute the cases because no laws were broken. But that doesn’t change the fact that at least a dozen men were arrested, read their rights, handcuffed, taken in, booked, fingerprinted, and posted bond. The dozen arrests were made by the Sheriff’s Special Community Anti-Crime Team, which also investigates prostitution and child predators. The task force took advantage of the fact that most of the men arrested were older and had not come out to their families.
After news of the illegal sting operation broke in the Baton Rouge Metro councilman John Delgado sent an email to Sheriff Sid Gautreaux demanding an explanation and apology. The Sheriff’s office responded in a way to make matters worse by equating private, consensual adult activity with public masturbation:
“The Sheriff’s Office has not, nor will it ever, set out with the intent to target or embarrass any part of our law-abiding community,” the Sheriff’s Office statement says.
“We will consult with others in the legislative and judicial branches to see what can be done to remove this law from the criminal code that each deputy receives and to also find alternative ways to deter sexual and lewd activity from our parks,” the statement says.
Delgado’s email says the Sheriff’s Office’s Sunday statement sensationalizes the matter by using terms like “lewd conduct” and “public masturbation” and suggesting that children were present during the arrests.
“The newspaper article makes it quite clear that nothing of the sort occurred in these 12 arrests,” Delgado says. “These men were arrested even though they were innocent of any crime.”
The sheriff’s office claimed that they were merely enforcing the law that was still on Louisiana’s books, and didn’t know that the law had been struck down in 2003: “To our knowledge, the Sheriff’s office was never contacted or told that the law was not enforceable or prosecutable,” the statement says. The Sheriff’s office says they will meet with District Attorney Hillar Moore III to get a lesson on constitutional law. Equality Louisiana also says that the department will also meet with members of the LGBT advocacy group.
Update: Think Progress’ report quoted from the Original Sheriff’s office statement posted on Facebook. That statement has since been removed. The original statement read, in part:
The Sheriff’s Office has not, nor will it ever, set out with the intent to target or embarrass any part of our law-abiding community. Our goal is to Protect and Serve the public. When we receive calls from the public about lewd activity near our children, we have to respond. Our park operations, conducted at the specific request of the BREC Park’s Ranger, were an attempt to deter or stop lewd activity occurring in the park near children. The deputies in the cases were acting in good faith using a statute that was still on the books of the Louisiana criminal code. [...]
We want to reiterate our intent in these cases. It was NEVER to target a certain segment of our population. It was only in response to parents, park officials and members of the public concerned that our parks were not safe. When we receive reports of public masturbation, sex and other lewd activity in a park where children are playing, me MUST take these concerns seriously. Our intent was honorable, our approach, however, is something we must evaluate and change. The Sheriff’s Office is not concerned with what consenting adults do in private residences. We are concerned with what is going on in public, especially a public place frequented by children.
The new statement now reads:
The Sheriff’s office apologizes that the way theseinvestigations were handled made it appear that we weretargeting the gay community. That was not our intent. TheSheriff’s Office also apologizes to anyone that wasunintentionally harmed or offended by the actions of our investigations. While sections of La. R.S. 14:89, Crimes Against Nature, have not been removed from the Louisianalaw code, they have been deemed unenforceable andunconstitutional. The Sheriff’s Office will not use theseunconstitutional sections of the law in future cases. We arecommitted to working with all branches of our government,as well as the LGBT community, to find acceptable ways tokeep our community safe.