By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
GENESEE TWP. – A sex sting operation by the Genesee County Sheriff’s department in response to allegations of public sex at a Richfield Township park has already resulted in one man losing his job and, could lead to job losses for two others arrested, if the American Family Association has its way.
Still, according to Triangle Foundation Executive Director Jeffrey Montgomery, “We’ve seen much worse.”
Montgomery explained remarks he made in a June 15 Flint Journal story saying that Genesee County Sheriff Robert J. Pickell “made an appropriate, moderate response to the situation,” of alleged public sex at Richfield County Park in Richfield Township.
“In this specific operation, the reason I say that it was moderate was that [Sheriff Pickell] has not been inclined to release the names of the men arrested. He charged them with pretty ambivalent charges – I think he charged them with disorderly conduct, he didn’t charge them with a charge that suggested sex,” Montgomery told BTL on June 22.
“In other jurisdictions we’ve seen much worse – much more dire consequences than we have here,” Montgomery added.
Montgomery has years of experience investigating such sting operations for Triangle and is familiar with how they are often conducted.
“They dress up a good-looking man, who goes into these places and engage men in conversation about sex – and when the conversation turns specific they arrest them,” he said.
“The problem is that between two consenting adults conversation is not illegal. No money is involved, so it’s not even a case of soliciting,” he added.
Montgomery claimed that before the June 14 meeting he had with Pickell at the sheriff’s request, the sheriff promised to show photographic proof that public sexual activity was occurring at the park.
“And then we were there, and he produced photographs of these guys being arrested but they were all clothed, and there were no big X-rated photos produced,” Montgomery said. “The sheriff says that in spite of that his guys claim that at least in one of these arrests there was certainly exposure of genitals. So that’s the sheriff’s claims … They weren’t able to find the photo that they said proved public sexual conduct.”
According to Pickell, however, “One of [the men arrested] wanted to have sex in the car, right there.”
Pickell said his office was responding to “numerous complaints from families” in initiating the sting operation.
“It was a moderate response to a problem where we had numerous complaints from families,” Pickell said. “I didn’t charge them with a sex crime because I didn’t want to get them on the [sex offender] registry. I wasn’t out there pro-actively going out looking for it, I was reacting to complaints.” Pickell said the actual charge was “disorderly person.”
“It’s not a gay issue, it’s not a homosexual issue. The issue is that you can’t have sex in the park, whether you’re a homosexual or a heterosexual,” he added.
Pickell insisted that those arrested solicited his officers to have sex in the park, as opposed to going together to a private location.
Pickell has guarded his neutrality in the case since the uproar began. According to a June 16 Flint Journal report, the sheriff declined to take part in an AFA press conference about the arrests.
“I don’t want to take sides,” the paper quoted Pickell as saying. “I’ve got to worry about the law.”
The man who has already been fired, a Genesee county employee, “is adamant that he was the victim of a conversation initiated by the decoy,” Montgomery said. Montgomery added that the fired sting victim is “eager to talk after the legal hurdles are over.”
Those arrested in the sting may not be talking yet, but the American Family Association is. Seemingly eager to be part of the story, the anti-gay group met with Pickell the day after Montgomery’s meeting with the sheriff, according to the June 15 Flint Journal story. And despite the fact that the men who were arrested have not been convicted of any crime, the AFA is demanding that two of the men, who are purportedly public school employees, be suspended.
On one of its web site links about the sting, under the heading “What the AFA wants,” the organization said it will “seek the suspension of two school employees Ñ a teacher and assistant principal Ñ arrested in the operation,” and “ask local news media to inform parents if school employees were among those arrested.”