HOUSTON VOICE www.houstonvoice.com
MAY 26, 2006 3
Memorial Park is site of HPD sting operation
ARRESTS, continued from Page 1
narcotics to other illicit activity.
When asked if the Parks Department
had a policy on restroom closures, Estella
Espinosa, communications manager with
the Houston Parks & Recreation
Department, said that the restrooms are
locked between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. every day.
According to Wright, Captain Steve Jett of
the Vice Division reported the arrests
occurred between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., hours
when the doors should have been unlocked
and the restrooms accessible. Wright said
when he told Jett that some of the men claimed
there were locks on the doors of the bathroom.
Jett laughed, saying, "That is not true at all."
Wright continued, "If that's what they're saying, they don't have a leg to stand on."
In court it will be the word of officers
against the word of the men charged. But
even if the restroom doors were padlocked,
Texas law would not guarantee the charges
against the men men would be dropped due
to illegal entrapment. Simply providing an
opportunity to commit a crime does not
constitute entrapment. And with officers
claiming that it was the men who attempted
to engage the plain-clothes officers in illicit
activity, the men charged may have no case.
However, in other parts of the country,
organizations have challenged law enforcement procedure in court and won.
Public sex laws
Gay watchdog groups insist they aren't
condoning illegal public sex, but the issue
to them is whether police are applying the
law equally to public sex involving heterosexuals and that involving only men. To
them, the question becomes: Are two men
found having sex in a park arrested, when
a heterosexual couple having sex a hundred feet away just told to move along?
The answer is that records of public lewdness and the context in which the arrests
were made are nearly impossible to quantify
However, the concern remains that gay men
are specifically being targeted. Historically,
the vast majority of public lewdness arrests
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Both the front and back gates to the restroom facilities off Picnic Lane in Memorial Park were unlocked and accessible on May 19, when this photi
But activists say that wasn't the case when 30 men were arrested in late April. (Photo by Nancy Ford)
made are of men and the dozens of published
new stories across Texas concerning stings
in parks and other public areas where only
men are swept up back that claim.
The Lambda Legal Defense & Education
Fund, a GLBT civil rights organization,
sued the Los Angeles police department in
2000 seeking records of public lewdness
arrests for the prior three years. After spotlighting the imbalance of male public
lewdness charges, arrests suddenly
dropped. And in Detroit, the Triangle
Foundation with the help of their local
American Civil Liberties Union obtained
roughly 300 arrest records. The results in
both investigations were compelling.
Each found that arrestees were overwhelmingly male and officers were using
the same language to describe the conduct
in arrest reports.
The use of boilerplate language in
arrest reports implies that police did not
differentiate between cases, activists say,
and that is among the issues of contention
raised by the Memorial Park arrests.
"The amazing thing to me is that the
prosecutors in this case know the officers
are lying because they tell the same lie in
every case using the exact same words,"
Hill said. "Human behavior is not so well-
patterned that everybody does the exact
same thing in the same way.
"I'm going to have to wait until these
cases get tried," Hill continued, "but I intend
to go down and assert to the police chief that
certainly his staff seems to be acting out
some prejudice-motivated law enforcment."
The success of organizations in fighting
lopsided justice hasn't succeeded in shutting down such sting operations, in Texas
or elsewhere. Too often, activists say. the
men arrested simply want the matter to go
away and will not agree to a legal challenge. In many cases, men who cruise pub
lic parks are married to women and have
families, multiplying the states.
Even an openly gay man may have
qualms about waging such a potentially
humiliating battle in court, activists say
Most choose not to fight the charges.
"The problem with that is." Hill
explained, "because of the Draconian sex
registration laws in Texas, if you plead
guilty, then you have to register as a sex
offender for the rest of your life."
Hill received a call from the wife of one of
the men arrested in Memorial Park in April.
"She wanted to know if I had any
advice," he said. "She said he was going to
go in there and plead guilty and pay whatever it costs to get out of it because he's so
That is precisely what HPD is banking
on, according to Hill. "They prey on vulnerable people and their only objective is
to get the conviction."
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