Despite the fact that the US Supreme Court struck down all of the nation’s bans on sodomy, gay men are still being targeted by police. According to the Baton Rouge Advocate, undercover East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies have been stalking Manchac Park and arresting gay men who are going to that park in order to hook up for anonymous sex.
The men do not have sex in the park. Instead, they retire to some place private in order to have sex. Typically, the undercover police officers chat up the men, then take the men to a nearby apartment and then arrest the men on one count of attempted crime against nature.
The men do not engage in a sex-for-money deal and the sexual activity occurs in private. This means that the men do not break any enforceable laws; however, since 2011, police have arrested at least a dozen men on charges of attempted crimes against nature.
District Attorney Hillar Moore III has refused to prosecute any of the cases because neither he nor his assistants found no crime had occurred. Moore has said that he would talk to the Sheriff’s office over the fact that the law is unenforceable.
However, Casey Rayborn Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, has denied that investigators are abusing the anti-sodomy law claiming that “This is a law that is currently on the Louisiana books, and the sheriff is charged with enforcing the laws passed by our Louisiana Legislature. Whether the law is valid is something for the courts to determine, but the sheriff will enforce the laws that are enacted.”
The law has been unenforceable since June 2003. Public sex acts and sexual acts for money are still illegal. Moore said that “The Sheriff’s Office’s intentions are all good, but from what I’ve seen of these cases, legally, we found no criminal violation.”
Bruce Parker of Equality Louisiana, though, is not certain of that. He stated “It is frustrating that the police are using their resources to pursue issues like this and arrest people for attempting to pick someone up and go home with them. It’s perfectly legal, and we would have to close down every bar in Baton Rouge if that weren’t the case.”
Hicks tried to defend the arrests claiming that a park “is not the place to initiate or attempt to initiate sexual relations. The issue here is not the nature of the relationship, but the location. These are not bars. These are parks. These are family environments.”
Other advocates are not buying it. Civil rights attorney Andrea J. Ritchie stated “It’s really unfortunate that police are continuing to single out, target, falsely arrest and essentially ruin the lives of gay men in Baton Rouge who are engaged in no illegal conduct.”
Lambda Legal attorney Peter Renn said that the “unlawful arrests over multiple years” indicate that the police are harassing gay men. He stated that “The fact that this has been going on for a two-year period is unbelievable. This is basically like the police putting up a sign that says ‘Please sue me.’ ”
Tommy Damico, a defense lawyer for one of the man arrested earlier this month, stated “For the Sheriff’s Office to be setting the kinds of sting operations up is a waste of time because they can’t prosecute these things. I think the statute itself as incredible problems.” The charges against his client were dropped ultimately.
Hicks also claimed that that affidavits of probable cause were presented to a judge for review to set a bond, and “In the cases we discussed, bond was set. In effect, the judges concurred that there was probable cause for an arrest.”
Hicks tried to say that there were two arrests this year that came after the park ranger called the Special Community Anti-Crime Team directly. In a couple of cases, arrests were made of actual lewd behavior including a man masturbating in the park.
However, Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission spokeswoman Cheryl Michelet noted that the parks have “not had a number of complaints on this issue.”
William Eskridge, a Yale Law professor, told The Baton Rouge Advocate that “If two adult men can have consensual oral sex in private, they can invite another adult man to do that in private. So even if there were a verbal offer and acceptance, it would be constitutionally protected, so long as no money was involved and the men were of age.”