Calls for Probe into Treatment of Gays Arrested in New Jersey Park
The Associated Press, July
TRENTON, NEW JERSEY—Two New
Jersey civil rights organizations want an investigation into reports gay men
are being targeted for lewd conduct arrests by police at a New Jersey park and
then treated harshly by a judge trying their cases.
The demand was made in a letter sent Wednesday to acting
Gov. Richard J. Codey and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission by the
American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and Garden State Equality.
“We seek this investigation not to condone public
lewdness, but to stop the disparate treatment of gays and straights,” said
Jeanne LoCicero, an ACLU attorney.
The park stretches from Fort Lee in northeastern Bergen
County to Bear Mountain, N.Y.
LoCicero said the organizations were acting on reports
that Palisades Interstate Park Police were using undercover officers to lure
men into engaging in lewd conduct, then arresting them.
She said the reports came from lawyers representing men
in these cases and from a story in New York City LGBT newspaper, Gay City
The organizations said they encourage arrests for lewd
conduct but that by only using male—and not female—officers the police are
discriminating against gay men.
Palisades Interstate Parkway Police Chief John Parr
denied his officers target gays.
“It’s not the sexual orientation,” said Parr.
“It’s the activity. We have arrested straight individuals as well as gay
Although Parr did not have exact numbers, he said
approximately 35 arrests for lewd conduct have been made this year through
June and at least ninety in 2004. Most of those arrested were men, said Parr.
He said the arrests are a combination of police officers
actually seeing lewd conduct in progress or undercover work. Parr added that
the fact more men are arrested is simply a reflection of the fact that more
men perform such crimes in the park. Parr said he’d consider using a female
undercover agent as well, but his 30-member police force has only one woman
who doesn’t do undercover work.
According to Parr, in addition to enforcing lewd conduct
laws, undercover officers also make narcotics arrests and enforce traffic
The civil rights organizations are also concerned about
reports a judge who rules on lewd conduct cases in the park, Stephen Zaben,
discriminates against gay men.
LoCicero said attorneys have told her Zaben hands out
harsher sentences to men arrested for lewd conduct with other men than to
She also cited a report in the Gay City News saying Zaben
sometimes ordered men arrested for lewd conduct with men to undergo
psychiatric counseling, something the paper said was not required of a
heterosexual couple arrested in July for lewd conduct.
Through a secretary, Zaben declined to comment.
While the organizations are primarily concerned about the
possible discriminatory practices, they also question whether using
plainclothes officers is an effective policing technique or whether other
methods like using more uniformed officers would work better, LoCicero said.
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