Thursday, June 22, 2006

Star Gives Front-Page Billing To Hamilton Sex Sting Arrests

The Star in a front-page story fills us in on the arrest of 22 people in a sex sting operation by undercover cops at Westfield's Cool Creek Park, including a list of all their names and the charges against them. Here's how the Hamilton Co. Sheriff's department conducted the sting:

According to probable cause affidavits, at least four undercover officers made contact with the suspects, either near the restroom or in a parking lot at Cool Creek. Police and a suspect often would agree to take a walk on one of the nature trails that wind through the heart of the park. Once inside the forested area of Cool Creek, the suspects would expose or fondle themselves or attempt to engage in such behaviors with the officers.

Many of the people arrested in the sting operation are now facing felony charges, not the typical misdemeanor charges that accompany such acts, because the acts took place in a public park where minors may be present, although police concede none of the acts were witnessed by any children. As the Star explained:

Because much of the behavior occurred in a public park that is equally accessible to adults and children, Wehmueller elevated the charges against many of the suspects to felonies. If convicted on the felony charge of performance harmful to a minor, the suspects could receive jail sentences ranging from six months to three years.

Wehmueller said that although none of the incidents involved or was witnessed by children, the threat that a minor would see the sexual activities paved the way for the harsher charges.

The problem with these sting operations is that they are not always what they appear. Arrestees often complain that the undercover police officer instigates the act in a way that amounts to entrapment, including engaging in a lewd act himself to entice the target into engaging in an act he may have otherwise not engaged in but for the bait the police officer used. Of course, the undercover officer, who is typically chosen for the sting operation because of his alluring good looks, denies engaging in any lewd act himself. Having said that, anyone who engages in these kinds of sex acts in public should be arrested.

The question is why the need to use undercover agents to entice people into commiting the acts? The most common reason police offer for conducting sex sting operations of this nature is that people report seeing people engaging in sex acts. If civilians are able to witness other people in these acts, then plain-clothed officers should be able to witness the same acts and make the appropriate arrests without actually first approaching and then propositioning a person to engage in a sex act. The problem with doing the latter is that it takes more time and police don't want to wait hours for someone to come along and do the dirty deed without a little enticement from police.

About a year ago, Terre Haute police conducted a similar sting operation in Fairbanks Park along the Wabash River. All of the men arrested in the sting had their names and pictures plastered on the front page of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, and the arrests were widely reported by local TV stations. Among the arrestees was a cousin of mine who suffers from a mental disability he has had since birth. After his arrest, he was at a complete loss to explain to his family what had happened. Fortunately for him, the police had recorded the conversation between him and the undercover officer. After his attorney reviewed the tape and discussed it with prosecutors, the case against him was dropped as it was quite apparent that the recorded conversation didn't support the charge against him. Of course, it was a little hard at that point to remove the damage from the embarrassing news coverage. His family became very concerned for his well-being as he withdrew and became extremely depressed.

I don't know if the circumstances for any of the 22 arrested in the Westfield park are similar to those experienced by my cousin, but for their sake I hope not. Because their lives will never be the same after the Star published their names and the charges against them in the newspaper today.


Zach Wendling said...

What I thought was a little odd was the presence of a couple of kids from Sheridan, who probably got caught necking (or more).

Advance Indiana said...

Good point Zach. The cops watch the young straight couple having sex of their own volition in a public park and charge them with misdemeanor public indecency. They solicit sex from the men, and if they agree to it, they charge them with a felony. Real fair aye?

Jay said...

I think it's entrapment, plain and simple. Straight teens and couples are getting a pass. WTHR is all over this story, too. What is with NBC and sex right now? Dateline does nothing but sex sting stories these days. Oh that's right, they don't want to talk about any real issues like Iraq, the economy, etc.

Advance Indiana said...

Jay, it's all about ratings. Sex sells. Why do you think the Star put it on the front page? If the sting operation had not been going on, that couple would probably have never been arrested. Police officers typically just tell the young couple to get decent and move along, a little different than the way they treat two guys.

stAllio! said...

the star practically admits that this was entrapment when it says that the disgraced CHS employee and the undercover cop "at some point engaged in intimate acts." i'm not sure what that line is supposed to mean, but it sure sounds like code for "mutual sexual contact" to me.

Advance Indiana said...

As I understand from talking to criminal defense attorneys who've handled these cases, their clients often complain that the cop exposed himself first before they did anything. George Michael insisted that the cop who arrested him did this. I don't think a cop should be allowed to pull his thing out in public to entice someone to commit a criminal act and when he does, that meets the legal test for entrapment as far as I'm concerned.

Morgan said...

Let's not act too surprised that a heterosexual couple is charged with misdemeanor public indecency and homosexual men are charged with felonies. That would likely be the case even in a place that otherwise demonstrates even the smallest amount of tolerance (that is, not Hamilton County).

These kind of arrests are a real catch-22 for GLBT activists - the police regularly engage in entrapment and these prosecutions are a legal manifestation of homophobia that should be protested, but we wind up having to "defend" people who at least look like they want to have sex in a park. I don't see any good answers, either.

If I can get in my bit for GLBT youth, the youngest man arrested and charged with the "gay felony" here was 38. I think it's pretty hard for people who come out at 16 or 18 years old to understand why men our fathers' age are still open to random sex in a park. It' last millenium!

Kevin said...

I guarantee you that most of those men have wives and children at home.

lesbian living in H.C. said...

Huh, I heard it was now routine policy, in most enforcement agencies, to video/document these types of stings; do you know if that was true in these cases? Too, isn’t entrapment easy to disprove via the video, prior arrests, readily willing suspect, etc.?

I appreciate that these laws are being enforced; it’s an infringment on my ability to use these openly public areas without having to witness activities which should definitely be optional viewing...regardless of how good looking that officer may be!

Regarding the incident with your nephew, it is good to hear that the system worked for him; that his disability was recognized and appropriately considered is good outcome.

Advance Indiana said...

I suspect they were not videotaped. That way police can deny they did anything untoward and it's just the defendant's word against the cops. Tape recordings are more common in solicitation cases where the spoken words offering money for sex is critical to proving the case.

Advance Indiana said...

It was a cousin, not a nephew.

Anonymous said...

I was involved in this "sting".
I was in the woods, minding my business (I just got out of a doctors appt. and was having luch). After I ate part of my lunch, I went into the woods to walk around.
About 5-7 minutes after I went into the woods, this really nice looking man came up to me, playing with himself.
He got really close to me, I put my hand on his leg, and he pulled out a badge.
He had me meet him in a different area to take my picture with his cell phone and write me a ticket.
He asked me to describe what happened while he taped it. When I mentioned that he was playing with himslef, he told me that I was the only person who ever accused him of that. Yeah, right.
What a lot of people do not understand is that no one was arrested the day it happened. I was ticketed for the misdemeanor around the middle of May.
The Sherrifs department did a mass round-up on June 16th, I think, and charged us all with Felonies. Not the straight people, of course. The next day our pics were in the paper, being charged with "Activity Harmful to a Minor".
Needless to say, I lost my job, and I have been essentially unemployed since. I have had to file for Disability due to the high level of depression I sustain to this day (I slept for 2 solid months).
I have a lawyer and I go to court the middle of April for a trial. I have rejected the "bargains" that the Prosecutors office offered me, which would include 2 years in prison.
I have contacted the Indiana divishion of the ACLU, but they are wayyyyyyy too big to care about discrimination against a dozen gay men. It is not a good enough story for them.
If anyone thinks this is crap, contact the Hamilton County whoever, and the news stations.
Incidentally, my lawyer acts like the difference in the charges for the straight people is not an arguable issue. I bet it would be if I had more money...

Advance Indiana said...

anon 5:27, what you describe to me is a classic case of entrapment. If you weren't out there looking for sex and otherwise predisposed to commit the act in public and the undercover police officer initiated the act, then you should have a defense for entrapment. I object to people having sex in public parks whether they are straight or gay. If it's going on like they say it is in these places, then police should be able to nail people in the act without using an undercover officer as a lure. But they never do it that way. It's very telling.

Anonymous said...

advance indiana, thanks for the reply.
Unfortunately, in my part of the state, discrimination is alive and well!
The article stated that the cops caught people near the restroom. I was, in fact, over a 1/4 of a mile from the restroom, in the back of the park, where I was approached.
It was a weekday in May, around 1pm, so there were no kids anywhere around.
I used to go to this park a lot to bike ride and walk. You would be amazed at all of the straight couples having sex on the side of the road in their cars. You could see asses in the air, heads bobbing, and arms and legs flailing. Cops don't look for that stuff.
This "sting" (entraptment oppurtunity) was performed because elections were a few months away, and the Republicans needed to make sure that the 4 previous years of doing nothing productive was not brought up.
I agree that if it were happening where people could see, then there should be no problem videotaping people doing stuff.
If police were there looking for straight couples, that is all that would be on tv and front pages daily.
If anyone has any idea of who could be contacted to make a stink about the different sentencing for gays and straights, leave a messege.
Thanks... said...

I was involved in the entraptment last year.
I just pleaded guilty to public indecency because I felt as a gay man in Indiana, I would not stand a chance at trial. And I cannot afford a felony for hurting a child just because I touched a grown mans leg.
Oh, the straight couple, who I found out for a FACT (my lawyer looked into it) were naked and having sex in their car, got a "diversion" and were never even initially charged with the Felony.
Indiana sucks. If I did not have a disabled parent who needed me here to care for her, I would be lonnnngggggg gone...