By Lucas Grindley
Originally published on Advocate.com July 29 2013 12:58 AM ET
The East Baton Rouge sheriff who used Louisiana's defunct anti-sodomy law to arrest a dozen gay men since 2011 now says he didn't know the law was invalidated by the Supreme Court.
"To our knowledge, the Sheriff’s office was never contacted or told that the law was not enforceable or prosecutable," a statement from the Sheriff's Office claims. It was issued Sunday after The Advocate newspaper in Louisiana exposed the illegal undercover sting operation.
That explanation doesn't appear to satisfy Metro Councilman John Delgado.
“Does he know that slavery is no longer around?” an outraged Delgado told The Advocate newspaper in Louisiana. “Does he know that we have cars and no longer horse and buggies?”
The newspaper now reports that Delgado is demanding apologies be issued to the 12 men who were arrested, one as recent as this month.
According to local LGBT rights group Capital City Alliance, the sheriff has committed to no longer enforcing the obsolete law and will work with state legislators to have it removed from the books.
At first, a spokesman for Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux told the newspaper that it didn't matter the Supreme Court ruled anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional a decade ago, it's still on the books in Louisiana, so they were still arresting men for it.
But on Sunday the Sheriff's Office issued a lengthy, new statement on Facebook claiming officers had not "set out with the intent to target or embarrass any part of our law-abiding community."
The statement explains the strange logic officers followed, starting with the belief children were in danger in the park where police met the men, and that deputies "used a statute that they felt fit the situation."
To be clear, according to the newspaper's report, undercover officers picked up gay men at a local park and lured them back to the privacy of their apartments. Then they were arrested when it was presumed they'd be having sex. No money was exchanged, which would have made it illegal. But otherwise the local district attorney refused to prosecute, saying there's nothing illegal about what happened.
The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated anti-sodomy laws in 2003 with the Lawrence v. Texas case but some states still have them on the books. Salon recently noted that some 22 states still have a version on the books, 13 of which specifically target same-sex couples. In Virginia, the Republican candidate for governor, Ken Cuccinelli, has actually sued to keep the law in tact while serving as the state's attorney general.
The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office on Sunday had to issue yet another statement after its first one was lambasted on Facebook and by Delgado.
"The goal of our statement was to express our intent to the public, which was to keep the parks safe," it states. "We admit, however, the approach needs to change. We are not making excuses, simply stating we will learn from this, make changes and move forward."
Read the complete initial explanation on the second page.
The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office issued a statement on Facebook after the local newspaper exposed an ongoing sting operation targeting gay men. Then the office issued a second statement to clarify that it wasn't "making excuses." Read the complete first statement below:
In light of the article in today’s paper, the Sheriff’s Office feels the need to issue a statement in response:
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. The deputies used a statute that they felt fit the situation in order to remedy the concerns of the parents and park officials. The deputies presented sworn affidavits of probable cause, a set of circumstances that would lead a normal person to believe that a crime has been committed or will be committed, to judges for review. In the cases we have reviewed, the judges set bond, in effect concurring that there was probable cause for arrest. To our knowledge, the Sheriff’s office was never contacted or told that the law was not enforceable or prosecutable.
In hindsight, however, we feel we should have taken a different approach. 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.
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. In light of new information, we feel that we need to work with our deputies to provide them with better resources and training to deal with these issues in more appropriate ways. It is very important to us that the public understands our intent and agenda was safety and never prejudiced toward any group.