Gays Call Police Sting Discriminatory
Santa Ana decoy operation netted 56 arrests at park with long history of
complaints. Defense says lewd heterosexual acts arent targeted.
Los Angeles Times,
November 30, 2000
Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: 213-237-7679 or 213-237-5319
By Stuart Pfeifer, Jack Leonard, Times Staff Writers
Santa Ana police conducted a six-month sting operation in which undercover officers
posing as gay men loitered near public restrooms seeking sexual liaisons from other men,
who were later arrested.
A total of 56 people were charged as part of the operation, which has prompted a legal
challenge from a noted gay-rights attorney and the Orange County public defenders
office, who want the remaining cases thrown out. They call the use of decoys
discriminatory, claiming the department is unfairly focusing on gays who frequent Santiago
Park in North Santa Ana.
"They are targeting the areas where gays" gather, said attorney Bruce W.
Residents who live around the park have long complained about gay cruising. On Tuesday,
both city officials and police strongly defended the actions, saying it was the only way
to clean up the park.
"We owe it to the community to keep our parks free and clear of any illegal or
lewd activities, especially parks where there are women and children in view of areas
where these acts are occurring," Santa Ana Police Sgt. Raul Luna said.
Councilman Brett Franklin said the sting was developed in January after he approached
City Manager David N. Ream about the cruising problem. Franklin said many nearby residents
urged him to ask the police to take aggressive action.
"Its been a long time coming," said community activist Mel Vernon.
"Its been a serious problem in the park for over 10 years. . . . This should
have been done years ago."
Officers worked the park through June, secretly videotaping the encounters and
eventually presenting their evidence to the district attorneys office. Most of the
defendants have already pleaded guilty, but a new lawsuit seeks to toss out the charges
against the remaining defendants.
Defense attorneys are citing appellate court decisions that place strict standards on
such sting operations. Courts have already thrown out charges stemming from similar stings
elsewhere in California, including Bakersfield and Concord.
Attorneys for the nine suspects contend the decoy operations are unfair because they
target homosexuals while Santa Ana police make little effort to crack down on heterosexual
activity in their parks.
A defense motion asserts that heterosexual activity in public is more pervasive in
Santa Ana than is homosexual conduct. To support their claim, they note that two-thirds of
the citys lewd conduct arrests in 1999 -- excluding decoys -- were for heterosexual
"All groups need to be treated fairly. If you have two groups committing the same
type of crimes, they should be treated in the same fashion," said Deputy Public
Defender Lee Blumen, who has teamed with private lawyers in the case.
Santa Ana police maintain they are not targeting gays.
An Orange County judge earlier this month rejected the argument of discriminatory
enforcement. The attorneys have asked a Superior Court appeals panel to temporarily stop
the prosecutions until their appeal is heard.
Defense attorneys have contended for decades that Californias lewd act law is
used disproportionately against homosexuals.
A 1979 California Supreme Court opinion placed new restrictions on enforcement of the
law, requiring prosecutors to prove that the suspect knew of witnesses "likely to be
offended" by the lewd act.
An undercover officer trying to lure a gay man into a lewd act cannot be presumed to be
offended by the conduct, attorneys for the Santa Ana suspects said.
Police in Laguna Beach, which has a large gay community, stopped using undercover
decoys in public parks 20 years ago, said Police Chief Jim Spreine.
Decoys were often challenged in court as entrapment and also required extensive
resources, Spreine said.
The department, he said, decided that officers could better spend their time by
stepping up patrols in areas where complaints were made. That switch, Spreine said, has
also helped the department forge close ties with the citys gay community.
"Where we had problems where gays were hanging out doing illicit sex, we put
uniformed officers there and patrolled those areas more. . . . Our gay community was very
supportive of that."
Fullerton police have used undercover officers as decoys at Hillcrest Park for many
years, making 20 to 30 arrests per year in periodic sting operations without complaint
from the gay community, officials said.
[Home] [News] [California]