Last edited: December 17, 2004

Unsettling Result of Heavy Handed Police, Publicity

The Day, January 28, 2002
Box 1231, New London, CT 06320
Fax: 202-442-0420

By Steven Slosberg

Sex, and it is always sex, short of murder, that dictates the extremes of the exposure for trespasses by public figures, and it was sex that triggered, up in Plainfield this last week, the tragic algebra of x plus y equaling suicide.

If only that poor soul, Stuart Denton, had the foresight to have been booked for drunken driving or even embezzlement, then maybe the fact that he was chairman of the local planning and zoning commission would not have resulted in making the sorry business such a humiliating spectacle.

But Denton, who was 55 when he was found dead in a shed on his property in Moosup Sunday night in whatís been ruled suicide by hanging, had the misfortune of being arrested for sexual behavior, despite the fact that what he allegedly was doing was in private and among consenting adults.

Denton, who apparently worked as a janitor at Nutmeg Pavilion Healthcare in New London for the past 15 years, though administrators there declined to say what he did, was among a group of men arrested last week at an adult video store and theater in Johnston, R.I. The video store, Amazing Express, is part of a chain of adult outlets primarily in the Northeast that includes Video Expo in Groton and Amazing North Stonington.

According to the Providence Journal account, Denton and six other adult men were charged with illegal sexual activities after an investigation by four undercover police officers. The men, sitting in the 50-seat theater at the store, where patrons pay $5 to watch adult videos, were observed by police exposing themselves and fondling one another and themselves. That behavior, the Johnston police chief told the Journal, constituted disorderly conduct because it was in a public place. Four of the men, reported the newspaper, also were trying to entice others in the theater to join them. They were charged with loitering for indecent purposes.

Denton was among the four charged with disorderly conduct and loitering for indecent purposes. Both charges are misdemeanors.

The police chief told the newspaper one of those arrested was a math teacher in Rhode Island and another, a lawyer. Denton, the newspaper said, was a janitor. He was also divorced, the father of a grown son, a college graduate and, said his obituary, a Vietnam vet honorably discharged with the rank of captain. He was a friend to many in Plainfield. Nutmeg Pavilion, in a brief statement, said: "Everyone is in a state of shock. We will miss him dearly. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family."

Johnston, west of Providence along Route 6, is a good half-hour from Plainfield. Those arrested, based on the newspaper account, were adults. The youngest was 30. They were in the theater, away from the public and certainly not on the street. From what the account said, no money was exchanged for sex.

What the police were doing in there, in force, busting a group of adults simply getting their jollies in the dark is not going to be examined too rigorously here. If Rhode Island still carries a law against loitering for indecent purposes, thatís Rhode Island.

But sex got everyoneís attention, and first a short wire story about the arrest appeared on the inside pages of the Norwich Bulletin, which circulates in Plainfield. Then, last Saturday, the paper ran an in-your-face front page story about Denton and his arrest and, of course, his position of public trust in Plainfield, which amounted to a politically appointed, non-paying chairmanship of a board that has as much impact on public morals, if that is truly the issue here, as Inland Wetlands.

Again, had Denton been charged with driving drunk, the story would have been news, but the exposure, Iíd venture, would have been hardly as candid and vilifying. Iím just speculating, and I havenít an inkling about with which demons Denton might have been wrestling. But, in the days between the publicity about his arrest and his suicide, one can only imagine.

What hand the media had in Stuart Dentonís death is uncertain. What kind of a public menace merited such a police undercover operation is dubious. What is certain is that his private behavior bore no reflection whatsoever of his civic duty, regardless of this iffy arrest, and his sacrifice remains deeply unsettling.

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