Suicide Prompts Protests About Police Raid
February 1, 2002
285 Broad St., Hartford, CT, 06115
By Deborah Petersen Swift, Courant Staff Writer
JOHNSTON, R.I.óProtesters are picketing and
questioning their actions, but police and town officials are making no
apologies for a Jan. 16 bust of an X-rated video store, which was followed by
the suicide of a Connecticut man arrested in the sting.
"As far as an apology goes," Johnston Mayor William R. Macera
said Thursday, the suspects "should apologize to the residents of
Johnston for engaging in that alleged behavior."
Carrying signs reading "Capital punishment for a misdemeanor,"
for example, about a dozen people demonstrated in front of Johnston Town Hall
at rush hour Wednesday. They questioned the tactics used by police and the
necessity of carrying out the bust.
Four days after the arrest of Stuart E. Denton, 55, his body was found in a
shed in the backyard of his home in the Moosup section of Plainfield. The
chairman of the townís planning and zoning commission had hanged himself.
"The real key point of the protest was to bring home to Johnston
police and Johnston town officials the outrageousness of their handling of the
situation and their real culpability," said Kate Monteiro, one of the
John Blakeslee, another protester, said the theater is "such a small
nuisance in their town" and the bust was "over what was such a
small, minor indiscretion on the part of seven men that were arrested."
The men were each charged with misdemeanors after undercover police found
them masturbating themselves or each other while watching a sexually explicit
video in the 42-seat theater of the Amazing Express video store on Hartford
Avenue in Johnston. The store, located in a cinder block building with peeling
gray paint, is in a sea of strip malls. The store sells and rents all types of
sexually explicit videos.
Blakeslee, who like many of the protesters is gay, said that visiting such
theaters is not a mainstream gay activity, and it is impossible to know if
Denton was gay.
"It all becomes so complicated," Blakeslee said. "Itís
difficult to say what is the reason. Was it because he was gay? Was he gay?
What is gay? Society is so unprepared to deal with the nuances of sexual
orientation, we canít say."
What people do know is that shame over such arrests can lead to suicide,
said Blakeslee, who has protested similar stings in the past in Providence,
warning that this can happen.
Johnston Police Chief Richard Tamburini said the suicide was a worst-case
scenario. "It was a very unwelcome and very tragic turn of events,"
he said. "These kind of situations never come to a soft landing."
Police, however, could not ignore the complaints they received about the
storeís theater, he said. It is unrealistic to send a uniformed officer to
the theater as protesters suggested, nor should these men be given privacy to
do what they want, he said. "This is a public facility. We didnít go in
with battering rams and knock down doors," he said.
A man who found himself in a similar situation decades ago, David Knapp of
Guilford, said he thinks police should treat the theater as a private place.
Knapp, now 75 and openly gay, travels the state talking to schools about
understanding homosexuality. But before he had told others, including his
now-former wife that he was gay, he sometimes frequented an area where gay men
were known to cruise.
"I am not proud of it particularly, but I did," he said Thursday.
"On one occasion, an undercover officer was there. I was absolutely
terrified." At the time, Knapp was involved in a parentsí school group,
running for a local board of education and lay leader for his church. He was
married, and his wife did not know he was gay.
"Can you imagine what that would have done to me if I was arrested and
my name was published in the newspaper?" he said. "I would feel like
doing the same thing that Denton did."
Knapp got away. He no longer visits such places. He is now openly gay, but
has paid a high price for that, including being forced out of his church and
the Boy Scouts, he said.
"Yes there are risks to coming out even in Connecticut. What no one
thinks about is the dangers of not coming out," he said.
Monteiro said the protesters are meeting this week to plan their next step,
which may include raising issues about how the media played the arrests, and
possible meetings with the chief and the mayor.
The chief said he welcomes such a discussion.
"Sending out faxes to the media and carrying placards and signs and
protesting isnít the way, in my opinion, to address the problem. My door is
always open," Tamburini said.
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