Sheriff's deputies in the Louisiana parish (county) of East Baton Rouge are entrapping, arresting, and booking gay men in undercover sex stings, according to an investigation by the Baton Rouge Advocate.
It's not about prostitution, as no money ever changes hands and no sex-for-money deals are worked out prior to arrest. It's also not about public sex (although such a sting would still be problematic, for reasons I've discussed previously). No, these men are being targeted, solicited, and then arrested simply for consenting to sexual activity at a private residence.
Since 2011, the newspaper found that least a dozen men have been arrested in East Baton Rouge Parish in similar sting operations, the most recent taking place just ten days ago. And how does the office of Sid J. Gautreaux III, Sheriff of East Baton Rouge (right), justify them? Why, by pointing to Louisiana's anti-sodomy law, of course! Casey Rayborn Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office, told the Advocate:
"[The anti-sodomy law] 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."
Except that the courts have weighed in on the constitutionality of state sodomy laws: they were struck down more than ten years ago by the United States Supreme Court in its landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision. When Lawrence was handed down in 2003, Louisiana's then-attorney general issued a statement declaring the state's anti-sodomy statute unenforceable. The unconstitutional ban remains on the books because legislators have so far refused to repeal it, but the state legislature's obstinance doesn't miraculously grant local officials the power to enforce voided laws.
In each of the cases examined by the Advocate, District Attorney Hillar Moore III has refused to press charges due to the absence of any actual criminal activity. So this clearly has nothing to do with enforcing the law or preserving the peace, and everything to do with singling out and humiliating gay men.
The paper describes the most recent arrest, which took place on July 18, as follows:
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...
[The men] merely discussed or agreed to have consensual sex with an undercover agent...
Sheriff Gautreaux's shameful stunt has disturbing echoes of an earlier time in America when gay sex was illegal and LGBT establishments and cruising grounds were frequently raided by police in order to shame and intimidate the local LGBT community, satisfy the public's lust for all things salaciously taboo, and fulfill society's seemingly endless desire to claim moral superiority.
But this isn't 1953, it's 2013. There is quite simply no justification for such blatant and repugnant anti-gay bigotry. The unconstitutional and unlawful actions of Sheriff Sid Gautreaux and the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Department must stop immediately.
UPDATE: Following today's story in the Baton Rouge Advocate, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office issued an official statement claiming that the department "should have taken a different approach," the newspaper reports:
"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. 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."
Spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks also quasi-apologized to the newspaper, although she steered clear of admitting any wrongdoing on the part of East Baton Rouge sheriff's deputies. She said the office was sorry that "the way these investigations were handled made it appear that we were targeting a segment of society."
In other words, I'm sorry you thought we were maliciously targeting gay men by arresting them for breaking a law that's been unenforceable for over a decade, but that's really your fault for misunderstanding, not ours for making the unconstitutional civil rights violations in the first place.
She continued, "The Sheriff's Office also apologizes to anyone that was unintentionally harmed or offended by the actions of our investigations that were only an effort to keep the parks safe."
But Metro Councilman John Delgado isn't having it. He wrote today in an email that Sheriff Gautreaux must apologize -- not just to the men his deputies illegally entrapped and arrested, but to the entire East Baton Rouge Parish.
The councilman also took issue with what he perceives as misleading language the Sheriff's Office used to describe the arrests:
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."
D.A. Moore, who declined to prosecute the men arrested in the undercover operations, said that he didn't think the deputies were aware that the Supreme Court had invalidated the law, and that he believes they made the arrests in good faith.
Here too, Delgado is calling shenanigans.
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse," he said in his email to Sheriff Gautreaux. "Doesn't your office tell people that all the time?"
In a phone interview with the paper, Delgado said claim that the sheriff "didn't know it was against the law" was "beyond insulting." "Does he know that slavery is no longer around? Does he know that we have cars and no longer horse and buggies?"