After the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas a decade ago, state sodomy laws were no longer valid. As The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, reported over the weekend, the news has apparently been slow to reach one sherrif's office in particular.
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. And the count against the man was based on a part of Louisiana's anti-sodomy law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court a decade ago.
Even by contemporary culture-war standards, this is offensive as it is bizarre. The East Baton Rouge sheriff's office has set up several sting operations and arrested at least 12 people over the last couple of years, all in the hopes of charging consenting adults who "merely discussed or agreed to have consensual sex."
Again, just to clarify, this has nothing to do with prostitution and nothing to do with sex in a public place. This is just a sheriff's office vigorously enforcing a state anti-sodomy law that's no longer considered constitutional. The local district attorney refused to prosecute the accused after any of the arrests, because -- you guessed it -- lawyers couldn't find any evidence that a crime had been committed.
After the report was published, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office presented a new defense for its poor judgment.
This statement was posted to its Facebook page:
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. [...]
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 [sic] 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.
Based on the available facts, the defense seems detached from reality. For example, two consenting adults having a private conversation does not constitute "lewd activity near our children." For that matter, that the statute is "still on the books" is hardly relevant given a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the law is unconstitutional.
"When we receive reports of public masturbation, sex and other lewd activity in a park where children are playing, we MUST take these concerns seriously"? Of course, but what does that have to do with consenting adults having a private conversation about intimate activities that might happen elsewhere?
And while we're at it, let's also not forget that a spokesperson for the Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission said the parks have "not had a number of complaints on this issue," which suggests the over-zealous local police weren't responding to public outcry at all.
By all accounts, the sheriff's office is going out of its way to knowingly enforce an unconstitutional law in order to target local gay citizens. The sooner it stops presenting unhelpful defenses and starts acknowledging its missteps, the better.