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Under fire for arresting gay men, sheriff says he will stop enforcing sodomy law

Monday, July 29, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. — The Sheriff’s Office in East Baton Rouge, La., that arrested at least 12 men since 2011 under a sodomy law invalidated in 2003 by the U.S. Supreme Court, now says it “should have taken a different approach” to concerns about park safety, and will no longer enforce the outdated law.

The department came under fire this weekend when the Baton Rouge Advocate reported that a task force of undercover officers had been arresting men after they agreed to engage in private, consensual sex.

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux

The sheriff’s office said in a statement Sunday that it was simply responding to “reports of public masturbation, sex and other lewd activity in a park where children are playing.”

“Our intent was honorable. Our approach, however, is something we must evaluate and change,” the statement read.

Although sex in public and solicitation of “unnatural carnal copulation” for money are illegal in Louisiana, neither element was part of these 12 cases, and most of the men were arrested after agreeing to have sex away from the park at a private residence, District Attorney Hillar Moore III told the newspaper.

“The Sheriff’s Office’s intentions are all good,” Moore said. “But from what I’ve seen of these cases, legally, we found no criminal violation.”

In an earlier statement, Sheriff’s office spokesperson Casey Rayborn Hicks defended the arrests, stating, “This is a law that is currently on the Louisiana books, and the sheriff is charged with enforcing the laws passed by our Louisiana Legislature.”

“Whether the law is valid is something for the courts to determine, but the sheriff will enforce the laws that are enacted,” said Hicks.

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Metro Councilman John Delgado said Sheriff Sid Gautreaux owes an apology to the men arrested and the entire community.

In an email to the sheriff’s office, Delgado wrote that its response Sunday sensationalized the matter by using terms like “lewd conduct” and “public masturbation” and suggesting that children were present during the arrests.

“These men were arrested even though they were innocent of any crime,” he wrote.

Delgado said he will file public records requests Monday to determine when the District Attorney’s Office informed the Sheriff’s Office that the men targeted had committed no crime.

“You cannot simply hide behind not knowing that the law had been changed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2003,” Delgado’s email says. “The Sheriff’s actions are a violation of the civil rights of these men under the 5th and 14th amendments. Ignorance of the law is no excuse … Doesn’t your office tell people that all the time?”

Gautreaux has told the Capital City Alliance, a local LGBT advocacy group, that deputies “will no longer be enforcing this law until the courts or the legislature removes it,” the organization said in an emailed statement.


Update:

Gautreaux apologized late Monday for the series of sting operations in which his deputies used an unconstitutional anti-sodomy law to arrest men agreeing to have consensual sex with undercover agents. More here

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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