Last edited: December 06, 2004

Charges Dropped In Roanoke Solicitation Cases

Prosecutors’ Announcement Comes After Second Acquittal In 1998 Police Sting Arrests

The Washington Blade, October 1, 1999

By Bill Roundy

Prosecutors in Roanoke have announced that they will drop the charges against two of the three remaining defendants accused of soliciting undercover police officers for sex in a public park.

The announcement follows the second acquittal in the Wasena Park solicitation cases, in which a jury took just 15 minutes to find Jeffrey Anders not guilty of solicitation.

"The prosecution said that the other cases would have no effect, but they seem to have [affected their decision]," said Sam Garrison, an openly Gay attorney who will be defending the remaining case.

In October and November of 1998, Roanoke police arrested 18 men in a sting operation in Wasena Park, charging them with solicitation to commit a felony. In Virginia, oral or anal sex between any two people is a felony under the "Crimes Against Nature" law.

Twelve of the men have accepted a conditional plea offered by the prosecution, accepting a $1,000 fine and two years of probation but retaining the right to file a challenge to the constitutionality of the "Crimes Against Nature" law. The appeal has been filed with the Virginia Court of Appeals, which will likely decide whether or not to hear the case within the next few months. The remaining six defendants pleaded not guilty to the solicitation charge.

The defense in the trial cases has rested largely on whether or not the conversations in the park amounted to the legal definition of solicitation: "to entreat, command, or persuade."

Garrison, speaking at a Sept. 25 Gay civil rights conference in Richmond, said that, "The defense has been: ‘Yeah, I’m Gay, and yeah, I was kind of looking to pick someone up, but it was never my intention to persuade anyone to do anything they didn’t want to do.’"

Several defense attorneys have argued that police were overly aggressive in their tactics, initiating conversations with suspects and deliberately steering the discussions toward sexual matters.

Defense attorney Ward Armstrong told the Roanoke Times, about the officer who arrested his client, "I don’t think he was a bad cop, but I think in his zeal to pursue the matter, he didn’t let the [suspect] do the asking. He did the asking, and that’s not solicitation."

In the two acquittals, testimony showed that there was no physical contact between the undercover officers and the defendants. In one case, the two never left their cars, which were parked side by side.

The first case to go to trial resulted in the conviction of Ronald Waller, who was sentenced to 60 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. Waller’s case differed from the other cases in that he had touched the officer in a provocative manner.

In the remaining case, scheduled to go to trial later this month, Garrison said that the defendant had also touched the arresting officer.

"That’s the difference that leaps out to me," Garrison told the Roanoke Times. He also said that dropping charges against the other two defendants would have no bearing on the pending case.

One side effect of the Wasena Park cases has been the energizing of the Gay community in Roanoke, said Ed Harris, a local Gay activist.

"The police sting — it caused an outcry," Harris told the Blade. "We feel like a lot of positive things are happening."

Garrison noted that the solicitation cases have been front-page news in the local newspaper, which has printed two editorials condemning the police tactics.

"I really think we’ve won the public relations battle, in Roanoke at least," said Garrison. "There’s been no volume of anti-Gay letters."

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