Last edited: February 14, 2005

18 Arrested In Wasena Park Sting Man's Offer To Officer Gets Him 60 Days

Critics Complain Roanoke Police And Prosecutors Are Unfairly Persecuting Gays

Roanoke Times, August 10, 1999
P. O. Box 2491, Roanoke, VA 24010
Fax 703-981-3204

By Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times

A man who propositioned an undercover police officer for sex in a Roanoke park was sentenced Monday to 60 days, the first jail sentence to result from the city's crackdown on cruising for gay sex.

Ronald T. Waller had nothing to say before Circuit Court Judge Robert P. Doherty imposed a jury's recommended sentence. Waller was the first of 18 men charged in an undercover operation to plead not guilty and face a jury.

A second case ended in a mistrial last month; a third is scheduled for a daylong trial Wednesday.

The cases have been causing a stir since November, when city police arrested "cruisers" looking for gay sex in Wasena Park by using a rarely enforced state law that makes consensual oral sex a felony.

Police and prosecutors say they were just responding to complaints of sex in the park when they charged the men with soliciting undercover officers to commit sodomy. The men's defenders say they are being unfairly targeted for simply talking about a sex act that is performed by thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens.

Waller, a gay man who was honorably discharged from the Air Force, testified in June that he was lonely the night of last Oct. 12 and went to the park because "that's where gays go."

Testimony showed that after a chatty undercover police officer approached Waller and said he would do "just about anything," Waller was arrested when he touched the officer provocatively and proposed that they have oral sex.

Waller, 45, has since lost his job as a store clerk.

"I think he's suffered from this, and I think he's suffered enough," defense attorney Michael Massey said in asking Doherty to suspend the jail sentence.

But in asking the judge to follow the jury's recommendation, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Alice Ekirch noted that, in 1997, Waller was convicted of the sexual battery of a police officer who was investigating cruising in the park.

Waller, who also was fined $1,500, had faced a maximum punishment of five years in prison.

Last week, City Council received a report on the cruising arrests that was requested in February, after a group of citizens complained to council that the law was being selectively enforced against gay men.

In a letter titled "Park Safety," Acting City Manager Jim Ritchie and City Attorney William Hackworth wrote that challenges to the anti-sodomy law have been rejected by the courts.

After two Circuit judges ruled in May the law is not an unconstitutional violation of privacy, 12 men pleaded guilty but were allowed to take their arguments to the Court of Appeals.

"Parks are designed to provide a wholesome and relaxing recreational area for citizens of all ages," the letter stated. "Sexual activity, including using park restrooms for planning and soliciting sex, simply has no place in such public areas.

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