Stinging: Staunton Officials Don’t Like Sodomy
November 6-12, 2001
222 South Street, Charlottesville, VA 22902
By Chris Edwards
Virginia Code statute 18.2-361, "Crimes Against Nature," makes it
a Class Six felony to "carnally know any male or female person by the
anus or by or with the mouth." Although tricorner-hatted lawmakers
wielding quill pens may have written the first law (complete with death
penalty) in 1792, the sodomy statute never came off the books.
It prohibits husbands and wives from certain private acts, but when police
say they’ll rein in "sodomy," it’s usually gay men who end up in
prison. Local stings haven’t grabbed headlines since 1998 when
Charlottesville Police used them to "clean up" West Main Street, and
Albemarle Police did likewise in the Ivy Creek Natural Area. In the Valley,
however, stopping sodomy is still a priority.
In Harrisonburg, police for a decade have conducted periodic sting
operations at Hillandale Park, arresting men on charges of solicitation to
commit such acts homosexually.
Even soliciting sodomy is a Class Six felony, punishable by up to a
five-year prison term and $2,500 fine. Typical sentences involve several
months in jail. Each of the three men nabbed in the most recently reported
sting, in April 2000, received three-month active sentences.
Harrisonburg Police Sgt. Kurt Boshart says his department conducts the
stings only when it receives a citizen complaint, which he says has occurred
on the average of once a year. What actually happens in the stings gets
tangled in what might be called "he said, he said" reports. Boshart
says undercover officers must wait for suspects to solicit them for sex. Some
arrestees and their advocates, however, have said officers made the
suggestions and they merely said "yes," while one man said he simply
met an officer’s request for a ride. In 1993, one suspect committed suicide
after his name appeared in Harrisonburg’s Daily News-Record.
In Staunton, a September 2000 sweep targeted men in Montgomery Hall Park.
Following complaints from citizens who reported witnessing sex acts,
undercover police took video cameras to the site and arrested nine men on
Police reports to news media, including the Staunton Daily News Leader
(which published the arrestees’ names and addresses on its front page),
indicated officers observed all the suspects performing sex. However, one man
arrested, Bruce Hartley, and his attorney, Frank Mika, maintain that police
neither saw nor photographed him.
Hartley insists he is innocent and is appealing his conviction. (Hartley
says he was so fearful of the onerous felony punishment that he initially
pleaded guilty to a circumstantial case and now wants to clear his name. He
says he simply stepped into the woods to urinate.)
Mika and another attorney, Sam Garrison (who is appealing the convictions
of nine men in a Roanoke solicitation sting), want to challenge the
constitutionality of the sodomy law.
Although the Virginia Court of Appeals rejected Garrison’s appeal, he
filed this summer for a re-hearing, with a request to consolidate the case
with a Frederick County man’s conviction on charges of heterosexual sodomy.
Garrison suggests charging anyone, gay or straight, having sex in public only
with indecent exposure (a Class One misdemeanor), or proposing legislation
addressing the misdeed more specifically.
Virginia is one of 17 states retaining sodomy laws. Del. Karen Darner
(D-Arlington) has repeatedly introduced legislation to reduce those charges
from felonies to misdemeanors. In 2000, her last such bill passed the House,
50-49, but died in the Senate.
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