By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
It‘s a miserable LAPD practice that antedates Jack Webb and Dragnet, and it’s at least as antiquated: sending cops in civvies to entrap and entice men who like other men by posing as like-minded persons.
But the Los Angeles Police Department -- perpetually proclaiming itself short of law-enforcement personnel and now embroiled in a spreading and costly ethics scandal -- continues to this very day the custom of detailing officers in plain clothes to entrap gay males in restrooms and other public places to instigate or report sexual activities involving no exchange of money. And until just recently, there appeared to be no hope of ending the tradition -- enforced under the California Penal Code 647a, prohibiting lewd conduct -- which many gays and others have styled wanton entrapment.
It‘s something straight out of the corrupt L.A. of Hollywood Confidential. But it continues, indeed, to destroy many careers and even lives; witness the recent case of Cesar Portillo, a reasonably strong candidate for the Hollywood-Eastside Assembly seat now being vacated by Antonio Villaraigosa.
Certainly, his candidacy was overshadowed by that of his competitor, City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg. But it was annihilated by the late-in-the-day disclosure of his decade-old arrest for soliciting a plainclothes officer, a charge which Portillo (perhaps unwisely) had declined to fight. (Less than a week before the election, Portillo called a news conference to disclose news of his arrest. He said Goldberg had been spreading word of his arrest, a charge she vehemently denied.) Portillo’s arrest ended a promising public-school teaching career, just as it came back to bedevil him toward the end of his Assembly campaign this year. Portillo denies having expressed any interest in the officer, but what if he had? And had the folie a deux been a heterosexual encounter, what charge -- if any -- would have been brought?
This is where attorney Ken Miele of the Gay and Lesbian Action Alliance came into the picture four years ago. Miele decided that this sort of thing had been going on for long enough, particularly since homosexual behavior hasn‘t been a statutory crime in these parts for a generation or more. So he decided to compile a docket, urging city officials that the practice be ended.
Miele says: ”For decades, thousands of men have been accused of lewd-conduct violations simply because they are perceived as gay and because of the LAPD’s discriminatory conduct, which is never enforced against similar heterosexual conduct.“
It‘s nearly two years since Miele and his alliance took their first petition to the Police Commission. The document -- called ”The Blue Petition“ -- presented, Miele said, ”30 years of discriminatory enforcement activities against the gay community.“ It came with dozens of attachments of cases in which men, often guilty of no more than showing interest in another, were prosecuted.
Nothing much happened, although the police allegedly took a cursory look at some 2,000 647a cases. So this month, Miele took another, more assertive petition to the Police Commission, calling for ”an independent investigation of LAPD lewd-conduct arrest practices.“ And this time, perhaps because of good timing, his plea was heard.
It was a historic moment, if you go for such things; the commission finally voted, unanimously, to review the precise practices Miele had brought to its attention two years before. In some ways, the members’ vote may have been the biggest local advance in gay rights since the local legalization of nonheterosexual, consensual sex. But it didn‘t get much reportage, probably because the commission, on the same day, voted to set up its own Rampart-inspired police-review panel, the ”Little Christopher Commission.“ As Miele’s report points out, study of lewd-conduct arrests (many of them within the troubled Rampart Division) suggests that the LAPD has a policy that basically ignores the laws that have legalized homosexuality in this state and city.
The only daily paper to report the commission‘s consensus was the legally inclined Daily Journal. Reporter Chris Ford noted that the commissioner putting Miele’s proposal through the Police Commission in the form of a motion was none other than Raquelle de la Rocha. The commissioner has now and then been criticized in this column, so it‘s only fair to note that she did good in this cause. ”It couldn’t have gone as well without her,“ Miele said. ”She took me aside, and we seriously discussed the issues before the commission voted.“
Miele‘s report asserts that all or nearly all LAPD lewd-conduct cases are decided purely on the word of the arresting officers: a perfect opportunity for police (shades of Rampart!) ”to embellish or fictionalize“ reports to justify arrest -- and conviction. Even if there are witnesses at the scene, they are rarely called.
Further, while the report contends that the use of male officers to solicit lewd advances shows that the police are overwhelmingly targeting gay men, a more central issue seems to be that careless or dubious lewd-conduct arrest reports may have become a malign tradition, comparable to the other bad arrests -- particularly those involving gang members -- disclosed so far in the Rampart scandal. As of this date, however, Miele claims that the LAPD has refused to release any lewd-conduct arrest reports to gay advocates, either in response to court orders or in official public-access requests. Indeed, not only the individual arrest records, but the overall complete file of lewd-conduct arrests, appear to be a disgraceful mess. As Miele points out, LAPD officials have readily sworn that the exact number of arrest reports itself isn’t known. For that matter, the names and addresses of many or most of the alleged citizen complainants are similarly not recorded.
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