by Eartha Melzer
Gay men across Michigan are being profiled and entrapped in misguided and possibly illegal police sting operations that appear to be inspired by the high profile bathroom arrest of Sen. Larry Craig, according to the Triangle Foundation.
“We have received dozens of complaints from places like Clinton Township, Westland, Clayton Township Pontiac, and Grand Traverse County,” said Sean Kosofsky of the Triangle Foundation.
“We believe police are breaking the law … they are going to an area where men meet, assuming they will have sex, and arresting them.”
Sexual conversation is legal, Kosofsky said, and solicitation requires that sex be offered in exchange for money.
Kosofsky said police are baiting men to break the law by asking them to have sex in public.
Men who get arrested suffer embarrassment and expense, even if they are not convicted of any crime.
In Traverse City in September, nine men were arrested in a sting carried out by 13 police officers in a county natural education area. The names and home towns of the men were published in the regional daily paper multiple times.
Though no instances of suicide are known to have been reported in connection with sex stings in Michigan, in Tennessee last month, a man committed suicide after his arrest for solicitation in a public park resulted in his name and photo being published in the local paper.
Kosofsy said that in many jurisdictions police impound cars of those arrested for solicitation and that costs for getting the car back often range between $750 and $1,000.
Kosofsky urged anyone arrested in a sex sting to contact the Triangle Foundation for assistance and said that in one case the group was able to help some wrongly arrested men win a case against the city of Detroit.
As Michigan faces budget shortfalls, people need to consider the priorities of the public safety budget, Kosofsky said, public sex could be stopped more efficiently through patrols by uniformed officers.
It appears that there are no standard guidelines for police to rely on when conducting sex stings.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police create guidelines for police operations, and though they do have guidelines on how to run a stake out operation, there are no guidelines that deal specifically with running an undercover operation focused on arresting gay men who have sex in public, according to spokesperson, Wendy Balazik.
The Michigan Sheriff’s Association and the Michigan Prosecuting Attorney’s Association did not return calls for comment by press time.
Comments from Sergeant Braddock of the Pontiac Police Department seemed to confirm the Triangle Foundation’s charge that police lack clarity about what constitutes solicitation.
Braddock said that the Pontiac department uses its narcotics unit to pursue illicit sex in outdoor locations.
“Solicitation for sex is usually associated with you telling the person what type of act you are looking for,” he said, “sometimes money isn’t even involved, sometimes people are just trading favors.”