Unsettling Result of Heavy Handed Police, Publicity
January 28, 2002
Box 1231, New London, CT 06320
By Steven Slosberg
Sex, and it is always sex, short of murder, that dictates the extremes of
the exposure for trespasses by public figures, and it was sex that triggered,
up in Plainfield this last week, the tragic algebra of x plus y equaling
If only that poor soul, Stuart Denton, had the foresight to have been
booked for drunken driving or even embezzlement, then maybe the fact that he
was chairman of the local planning and zoning commission would not have
resulted in making the sorry business such a humiliating spectacle.
But Denton, who was 55 when he was found dead in a shed on his property in
Moosup Sunday night in whatís been ruled suicide by hanging, had the
misfortune of being arrested for sexual behavior, despite the fact that what
he allegedly was doing was in private and among consenting adults.
Denton, who apparently worked as a janitor at Nutmeg Pavilion Healthcare in
New London for the past 15 years, though administrators there declined to say
what he did, was among a group of men arrested last week at an adult video
store and theater in Johnston, R.I. The video store, Amazing Express, is part
of a chain of adult outlets primarily in the Northeast that includes Video
Expo in Groton and Amazing North Stonington.
According to the Providence Journal account, Denton and six other adult men
were charged with illegal sexual activities after an investigation by four
undercover police officers. The men, sitting in the 50-seat theater at the
store, where patrons pay $5 to watch adult videos, were observed by police
exposing themselves and fondling one another and themselves. That behavior,
the Johnston police chief told the Journal, constituted disorderly conduct
because it was in a public place. Four of the men, reported the newspaper,
also were trying to entice others in the theater to join them. They were
charged with loitering for indecent purposes.
Denton was among the four charged with disorderly conduct and loitering for
indecent purposes. Both charges are misdemeanors.
The police chief told the newspaper one of those arrested was a math
teacher in Rhode Island and another, a lawyer. Denton, the newspaper said, was
a janitor. He was also divorced, the father of a grown son, a college graduate
and, said his obituary, a Vietnam vet honorably discharged with the rank of
captain. He was a friend to many in Plainfield. Nutmeg Pavilion, in a brief
statement, said: "Everyone is in a state of shock. We will miss him
dearly. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family."
Johnston, west of Providence along Route 6, is a good half-hour from
Plainfield. Those arrested, based on the newspaper account, were adults. The
youngest was 30. They were in the theater, away from the public and certainly
not on the street. From what the account said, no money was exchanged for sex.
What the police were doing in there, in force, busting a group of adults
simply getting their jollies in the dark is not going to be examined too
rigorously here. If Rhode Island still carries a law against loitering for
indecent purposes, thatís Rhode Island.
But sex got everyoneís attention, and first a short wire story about the
arrest appeared on the inside pages of the Norwich Bulletin, which circulates
in Plainfield. Then, last Saturday, the paper ran an in-your-face front page
story about Denton and his arrest and, of course, his position of public trust
in Plainfield, which amounted to a politically appointed, non-paying
chairmanship of a board that has as much impact on public morals, if that is
truly the issue here, as Inland Wetlands.
Again, had Denton been charged with driving drunk, the story would have
been news, but the exposure, Iíd venture, would have been hardly as candid
and vilifying. Iím just speculating, and I havenít an inkling about with
which demons Denton might have been wrestling. But, in the days between the
publicity about his arrest and his suicide, one can only imagine.
What hand the media had in Stuart Dentonís death is uncertain. What kind
of a public menace merited such a police undercover operation is dubious. What
is certain is that his private behavior bore no reflection whatsoever of his
civic duty, regardless of this iffy arrest, and his sacrifice remains deeply
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