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.