Last edited: January 02, 2005


Picking up the Pieces

One man tries to move on, and help others

Washington Blade, June 19, 1998

By M. Jane Taylor

Don Chandler said he had both encountered and heard of at least two instances of police impersonation in the Annapolis, Maryland, area where he lives, and had heard and read stories about Gay "pick-up" murders. So when a man followed Chandler into a video booth at an adult video store in Annapolis last August and then told Chandler he was an Anne Arundel County Police officer and placing Chandler under arrest, Chandler was suspicious and frightened.

"I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere without knowing who say you are. May I see some identification?’" Chandler recalled. The man said he had none. Neither did his buddy, who emerged from an adjoining video booth. Chandler said the first man again commanded him to following him, to an unmarked car: "I’ve got some [identification] in the car. Go out through the front of the store. Keep quiet, I don’t want to make a scene. Let’s go."

As Chandler walked past the clerk’s desk at the front of the store, the two officers trailing behind him, he turned to the clerk for help.

"These guys claim to be cops?" Chandler said he asked, with a questioning look. The clerk, he said, shrugged his shoulders and scowled. The officers grabbed Chandler and dragged him out of the store. They charged him with indecent exposure (behind the locked door of the video booth), resisting arrest (he said it was because he requested the officer show him some identification), and obstructing justice (for revealing the undercover officers as such to others in the store).

From 9 p.m. Aug. 8 until 5:30 a.m. Aug. 9, Chandler, 54, sat in a cellblock with both his hands and feet in cuffs. The police action at the bookstore continued through the night. By 2 a.m., there were 14 people in five cells, 12 of whom were arrested at the bookstore.

For Chandler, the arrest was just the beginning of an experience that would ultimately lead to him losing his job at a church.

Anne Arundel County Police arrested at least 48 men during a series of undercover stings at the 20/20 Books and adult video store between May and August last year. They were reportedly responding to complaints that "lewd activity" was taking place inside and surrounding the shop. The charges filed against men arrested in such situations generally include indecent exposure, solicitation for lewdness (sexual acts), and fourth-degree sex offense (touching).

20/20 Books in Annapolis is one of several meeting points around the country that are popular with some men for cruising other men and popular with some police for sting operations. There are no statistics for how many men are arrested in these stings because the actual charges vary from place to place, according to attorney Michael Adams of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian & Gay Rights Project.

Nevertheless, Adams said he thinks this type of arrest has been happening on an increasingly larger scale, partly because of the increasing availability to the public of information that used to be more underground. Internet sites such as www.cruisingforsex.com contain "entrapment" alerts from men around the country, reporting police operations at areas where men are known to cruise.

"Police departments that choose to focus their resources in this area are getting onto the Internet ... and finding online resources talking about where Gay men get together and meet," he said. "Certain police departments decide that they are going to become ‘morality police’ and focus their resources on policing the sexual lives of people."

It is hard to prevail in court by claiming entrapment, Adams said, because the defendant generally has to show that he was not predisposed to commit the offense.

"It’s an uphill battle," he said.

The support for the police targeting of Gay men, according to the ACLU and Gay civil rights activists, lies in sodomy laws that prohibit certain forms of consensual sexual activity, such as oral and anal sex. Maryland is one of 20 states where sodomy-type laws are still on the books, and it is one of four states .(including Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas) that prohibit sodomy between same-sex couples and not heterosexual couples.

Currently, the ACLU is challenging these laws in Kansas and Maryland and will soon file a suit in Puerto Rico. Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund has a suit pending in Arkansas.

Following the arrests in Maryland last August, the state dropped the charges against Chandler. At a hearing on May 15, the court placed his case on a "stet file," meaning it could be officially brought up again for any reason within a year, and after a year it can be brought back up if a judge decides there is "good cause."

Various forms of plea bargaining are often used as a means of settling misdemeanor criminal cases in Maryland, according to attorney Stephen Mercer of Rockville, Md., who has defended a number of these types of cases.

"Typically, when an individual who does not have a prior criminal record is charged with that type of offense, the state attorneys office will generally not ask for incarceration but will require some amount of community service," Mercer said. "Every county has different procedures, and the vast majority of criminal charges result in a plea bargain," he said. "But I think with these types of charges, the real punishment comes when the list of individuals who have been arrested is published in the local newspaper," he added. "That really is what is very harmful, because it is such a titilating crime."

So for Chandler and many others for whom the charges have been dispensed with, the punishment is already meted out. Some newspapers around the country have policies of routinely publishing the names and addresses of all men arrested during these type of police sweeps. That, for most of the arrested men, is more severe than any sentence from a court. One man committed suicide Jan. 30 in Pulaski County, Ark., after the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock published an article listing his name as being arrested in a public sex raid.

According to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the man left behind a suicide note to his male partner of 31 years: "My name and everything is in the paper this morning. ... Goodbye. I love you."

The newspaper did not report his suicide and ignored requests from five major organizations to have a meeting about its policy of selective publication of the names of men arrested for misdemeanors, according to GLAAD.

On Aug. 12, in the Annapolis Capital newspaper published Chandler’s name, age, address, and the official charges against him.

"And then I lost my job," he said, even though the charges were later dropped.

For three years, Chandler had worked at St. Martin’s-In-The-Field Episcopal Church in Severna Park, Maryland, where he was openly Gay and served as director of music and organist.

"My pastor called me about a few hours after the paper came out on Tuesday afternoon ... saying he had received a phone call [and] and wanted to know what had happened," he said. "I had not yet seen a lawyer. I basically spilled the whole story."

A day later, Chandler said, he submitted his resignation "under protest," for fear that if he stayed it would have the effect of tearing apart the two children’s choirs he had started two years earlier.

Since then, Chandler has concentrated on a part-time piano tuning business he has had for the past 10 years and has been doing some substitute church organist work.

Anonymous male-male sex has become a hot topic since the May 14 arrest of pop music star George Michael. Michael was arrested for performing a "lewd act" in a public restroom in Beverly Hills, Calif. Following his arrest, news networks around the country began airing exposÚs on where men cruise men for anonymous sex, further fueling police sting operations.

For Chandler’s part, he is trying to turn his ordeal into an opportunity.

"It was obviously entrapment and unjust, and I want to do what I can to get this stopped," he said.


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