Manhattan Beach Gay-Sex Ring: Should Police, Media Have Circulated Suspect Mugshots? | The Informer | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Manhattan Beach Gay-Sex Ring: Should Police, Media Have Circulated Suspect Mugshots?

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Thu, Apr 5, 2012 at 1:45 PM

click to enlarge Cruel and unusual? - MANHATTAN BEACH POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Manhattan Beach Police Department
  • Cruel and unusual?
The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center blasted an angry presser yesterday, calling out sister news stations CBS2 and KCAL9 for printing/airing the "mug shots, names and birthdates for the 18 men who were recently charged in an undercover sex sting operation at a Manhattan Beach public restroom."

We were a little surprised ourselves to receive said PDF from the Manhattan Beach Police Department...

... but seeing as it had already made its rounds on the Internet, and seeing as we do normally post mugshots of peeping-tom suspects and other minor sexual offenders, we too embedded the thing.

This is the statement from Darrel Cummings, chief of staff at the local LGBT center:

"It's shocking that any news operation, but especially an affiliate of a major network like CBS, would choose to publish the mug shots, names and birthdates of people charged with victimless crimes, simply because the charges are salacious or related to gay sex. Naturally we don't condone illegal activity of any kind, but these men haven't been proven guilty and historically, charges such as those leveled against them have involved police entrapment. Publishing their photos serves no purpose other than to humiliate and destroy their lives. We call on KCBS/KCAL to immediately remove the images and names from their website."

ABC7, KTLA, NBC4, the Los Angeles Times and the Huffington Post likewise aired the goods.

We called the center as soon as we saw their release, curious if it was really CBS they were mad at, or the Manhattan Beach Police Department, who sentenced the mugshots to eternal life as soon as it threw them to the undiscerning Internet.

(Because, as many learn the hard way from evil online entrepreneurs like IsAnyoneUp.com's Hunter Moore, there will always be someone willing to host a good sex story/pic, no matter the collateral damage.)

"Thanks for calling regarding our news release," writes Communications Manager Stevie St. John in an email. Here's her response to our questions:

"Although we're told it is the Manhattan Beach Police Department's standard practice to include mug shots any time they issue a news release about an arrest, it is not standard practice or acceptable for media to share photos of people who are charged with victimless crimes such as loitering or engaging in lewd conduct in a public place.

The Center called out KCBS/KCAL specifically because we would expect them, as an otherwise responsible news station, to adhere to professional standards. The consequences of being 'outed' or perceived as gay in such a homophobic society are very real. The publication of these photos serves no purpose other than to embarrass them, and has the potential to destroy their lives. It's not even clear from the KCBS/KCAL website what specific charges have been leveled against each and none have yet to be proven guilty."

We contacted the Manhattan Beach Police Department yesterday about their policy on releasing suspect mugshots (many law-enforcement entities don't release them unless they need the public's help tracking a suspect down), but we have yet to hear back.

Meanwhile, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center officials aren't the only ones mad about the media's handling of this incriminating spreadsheet.

John Walsh, a longtime citywatcher who can usually be found raising hell at L.A. City Hall, has devoted his biweekly email rant to LA Weekly's own publication of the mugshots -- demanding that we "TAKE DOWN THE LA WEEKLY HOMOPHOBIC TEAROOM POST NOW!"

He claims that the Manhattan Beach PD first placed these photos online to "shame" the alleged members of the gay-sex ring, and that "many of these men are now suicidal."

Indeed, Claudio Pinto, one of the accused men, told the Daily Breeze yesterday that "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have hired a lawyer. I was definitely innocent. ... You have completely ruined my life."

What do you think? Should the Marine Bathroom sex-ring suspects be subjected to this level of public scrutiny?

We would to add, though, that any sarcasm/lightheartedness in our original post was not due to the fact that the suspects might be gay. If there was a heterosexual orgyfest going on at some public restroom in Manhattan Beach, we'd be equally intrigued/horrified/amused. Also, we can't tell you how many tearful emails we get from suspected criminals, trying to explain how they were set up, falsely accused, etc. -- for all sorts of sex crimes, not just same-sex. (For instance, this guy. And his charges are a lot worse than having a hand in some gay sex party.)

And please, no one commit suicide. Like the LGBT center noted, these are merely allegations -- and if the Manhattan Beach PD can't prove them, they'll be the A-holes in the scenario.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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