The Baton Rouge Sheriff's Department has some explaining to do regarding sting operations set up to find gay men, then charge them with unenforceable sodomy laws.
The 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas made anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional. So why are members of the Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department charging gay men, attempting to have consensual sexual relationships, with crimes against nature?
Baton Rouge’s The Advocate reported Saturday that undercover sheriffs have been conducting stings with the purpose of finding gay men, asking them if they want to have “some drinks and some fun” at a public park, and then arresting them once they take set a date. There was no discussion of either party paying for sex in any of the stings.
The most recent arrest on July 18th is the latest in a dozen over the last two years in which the sodomy laws have been used by local law enforcement, despite the fact that they will not be able to bring these men to court on that legal basis.
“This is a law currently on the Louisiana books, and the sheriff is charged with enforcing the laws passed by our Louisiana legislature,” said Casey Rayborn Hicks, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, to The Advocate.
On that count, Rayborn Hicks is correct. Laws that prohibit “unnatural carnal copulation” with members of the same, or opposite sex, or with an animal, are still on the books in Louisiana. As ThinkProgress points out, the Louisiana Attorney General issued a statement after the Lawrence ruling that the state’s anti-sodomy laws could not be enforced, save for circumstances of bestiality or prostitution.
It’s for that reason that current District Attorney Hillar Moore III has refused to prosecute these cases: As the law stands, no crime has occurred. While solicitation of sexual acts for money and public acts of sex remain illegal, Moore told the newspaper that “those elements were lacking from these 12 cases.” Further, “most of the men were arrested after agreeing to have sex away from the park at a private residence.”
The sherifff’s office told the paper that the issue was with Manchak Park, where the meet-ups were scheduled, “it’s the nature of the location not the nature of the relationship,” Rayborn Hicks said. There were no sexual acts committed at the park.
“They started a conversation and the officer invited him back. That’s a conversation that could happen anywhere,” Equality Louisiana’s Bruce Parker told MSNBC.com Sunday. ”It’s the equivalent of me asking you out in a Post Office.”
While the cases will not see the inside of any courtroom, there are questions about department targeting and where the sheriff’s office chooses to allocate its resources. Parker told MSNBC.com that nine sheriffs were working on the particular sting operation that led to the most recent arrest, adding “with the crime rate being what it is.” Louisiana is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous states in the country, while Baton Rouge was ranked America’s 8th deadliest city for 2012 with a 4.7% rise in murder rate—28.9 murders for every 100,000 citizens.
The sheriff’s office released a statement via Facebook Sunday in light of the recent media attention, saying it was not its intent to “target or embarrass,” but that when they receive calls “about lewd activity near our children,” they must respond.
The statement reads:
“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.”
Parker said that his organization, and others, will continue to pressure the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office to follow through on its promise, and ensure that no one else is arrested.