One of the dumber law enforcement initiatives in recent Louisiana history is now in the national-news phase, as the New York Times has now begun coverage of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office’s recent practice of stinging gay men who attempted to congregate in public parks for the purpose of sexual hookups.
Nobody was actually engaging in sexual activity in the parks, mind you; they were meeting each other and then decamping to alternative locales for whatever behavior they were engaging in.
Enter the sheriff’s deputies, who decided to play the roles of johns soliciting sex in the parks, and netted a few unfortunates…whom the district attorney wouldn’t prosecute because the law the “perps” were supposedly breaking was found unconstitutional.
And over the weekend, the local media got hold of the story…
An undercover East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy was staking out Manchac Park about 10 a.m. one day this month when a slow-moving sedan pulling into the parking lot caught his attention. The deputy parked alongside the 65-year-old driver and, after denying being a cop, began a casual conversation that was electronically monitored by a backup team nearby.
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.
As you might expect, the gay and lesbian lobby went ballistic over the story, and yesterday John Delgado, a Republican member of the Metro Council, threw a fit over it, so by last night the sheriff himself put out a statement of apology…
I want to apologize on behalf of our agency that the way these park investigations were handled made it appear that we were targeting the gay community. That was not our intent. I also apologize to anyone that was unintentionally harmed or offended by the actions of our investigations. Our agency made mistakes; we will learn from them; and we will take measures to ensure it does not happen again.
I have taken the following steps to begin to move forward:
1. I have met with the EBR District Attorney to improve communication between our offices and evaluate ways to ensure that arrests are not made based on unenforceable and unconstitutional laws.
2. I have contacted the DA, Louisiana Legislators and the La. Sheriff’s Association to begin discussions about having the unconstitutional sections of La. R.S. 14:89, Crimes Against Nature, removed from the Louisiana Criminal Code.
3. I have publicly stated that the Sheriff’s Office will not use these unconstitutional sections of the law in future cases.
4. I have informed all employees of the Sheriff’s Office they are not to use these unconstitutional laws.
5. I am conducting a comprehensive evaluation of undercover operations made by our deputies and will make changes to ensure better supervision, training and guidance.
6. I have scheduled to meet the Capital City Alliance group in order to further the dialogue between law enforcement and the LGBT community.
Again, we made mistakes. Rather than make excuses or point fingers, we think it is most beneficial for our community as a whole to learn from this and move forward together in a positive direction to ensure the peace and safety of every individual we are here to serve.
And now, the New York Times is involved.
Bruce Parker, who manages a statewide coalition of gay and lesbian advocacy groups called Equality Louisiana, said that there had been at least 12 arrests in recent years under the anti-sodomy statute but he suspected there may have been more.
“It was really a case of targeting people,” Mr. Parker said.
Mr. Parker said the sheriff’s office has been responsive since the weekend, saying it would work with the Capital City Alliance, a Baton Rouge-based group that is part of the coalition. While Mr. Delgado said those arrested had a strong case for a civil suit, Mr. Parker said some of them were not openly gay when they were arrested and were unlikely to want further publicity.
“Many of their lives were dramatically ruined because of this,” he said.
It will be interesting to see how much more national publicity this fiasco generates, and whether Gautreaux can survive it. The guess is he will, thanks to that apology.
But it’s worth asking who in the Sheriff’s Department thought it would be a good idea to run a sting on gay people in public parks who weren’t actually using those parks to engage in lewd behavior.
Whatever you think of homosexuality, it’s a rather obnoxious bit of law-enforcement overreach to be actively attempting to entrap gays – or anyone else – who are just trying to meet people. For whatever purpose. It’s a violation of their 1st Amendment rights of free association.
No, you can’t have sex in a public park. With anybody. If that’s what was going on, the sheriff’s office would be doing a service to the community by attempting to clean it up.
When you go beyond that and start sending deputies around to pretend they’re gay gigolos on the make, though, two things are true. First, you go from doing its job of keeping the peace to acting as an oppressor. And second, by making a bunch of arrests under a statute which has been unconstitutional for a decade you are wasting an enormous amount of time and energy which can be better spent trying to stop murders and robberies.
The apology is fine, and it was appropriate – if perhaps even a little over-the-top, since what it does is open the door to the typical “politically correct” public-sector dance with aggrieved special interest groups that usually involves a raid on the public treasury. What’s necessary now, though, is that someone be fired.
Because somebody made a decision to devote departmental resources toward conducting sting operations based on unconstitutional laws the D.A. wouldn’t prosecute under, which had the effect of trashing the reputation of people who had chosen to keep their sexuality private while availing themselves of using public parks for social – not sexual, social – purposes. That somebody thinks wasting public resources on abusing people whose activities aren’t illegal is a good idea.
And people like that should not be making decisions in a law enforcement agency. You need better judgement, and better respect for individual liberty and constitutional rights, than that in such positions.