Last edited: March 28, 2004

State Denies Targeting Gays in Busts at Park Beach

Miami Herald, July 25, 2003
1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132
Fax: 305-527-8955 or 305-376-8950

By Diana Moskovitz, Herald Writer

Relaxing, breaking in his new, white bathing suit and working on his tan—that’s all Fort Lauderdale resident Tracy Faulkner had in mind, he says, when he visited the beach at John U. Lloyd State Park in March.

He left with an order to appear in court. The charges: two counts of indecent exposure. Officers said his swimming suit was not sufficiently “opaque.”

“The whole situation was absurd,” said Faulkner, who won a dismissal of the charges after showing the suit to a judge.

Faulkner is one of several men, some of them gay, who say officers at the park, just north of State Road A1A in Dania, ticketed them simply for enjoying a park maintained with their tax dollars.

They have consulted with a lawyer, Russell Cormican, about a possible legal challenge. The Express Gay News, a gay-oriented Fort Lauderdale newspaper published by Cormican’s law partner, Norm Kent, has joined the outcry.

State officials overseeing park security make no apologies. They say they are enforcing laws aimed at preserving a clean, family-type atmosphere at the park. They deny targeting gays, saying their officers have no way of knowing who is gay or who is straight.

“We are enforcing the law with everyone that is there,” said Lucia Ross, chief of executive affairs for the Department of Environmental Protection’s law enforcement division.

Because it is secluded and often sparsely used, particularly on weekdays, John U. Lloyd is a park known as a place where illicit activities can occur.

Among those activities are public sex.

“On a daily basis, we’re cleaning up such things as used condoms in areas where people have obviously been having sexual activity,” Ross said.

However, Faulkner and several others who have received tickets believe they are being targeted for imaginary offenses, part of a strategy for discouraging gays from visiting the park.

Jose Mendoza, of Fort Lauderdale, said he stopped visiting the park after his encounter with the law.

On March 29, he was charged with sitting on the sea grass, according to the incident report, punishable by a maximum fine of $500 fine and/or jail time.

Mendoza was lounging 25 feet from the water on two large beach chairs with a friend when he was ticketed and told to leave the park, he said.

His friend received a warning, Mendoza said.

When Mendoza arrived for his June 23 court date, he says he was told the state had dropped the charges.

“If they are really doing their job to protect the area and the environment, they can say ‘Hey, please move there,’ and we can move,” Mendoza said.

Michael Salazar, a Fort Lauderdale attorney, said he represented four men charged with similar infractions. The first two ended with the state dropping charges. The other two are pending.

Around the country, concerns have been raised about the selective enforcement of laws against gays.

“We get calls all the time from folks who are in this position where there is a law that, good or bad, the law is only being applied to gay folks and not other folks,” said David Buckel, a senior staff attorney with Lambda Legal, a legal defense group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and those living with HIV and AIDS.

Gay activists rejoiced when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an anti-sodomy law in Texas, which many gays felt were used to selectively target homosexuals.

‘The high court said what we always called the ‘gay exception’ to the law is dead,” Buckel said.

The men ticketed at John U. Lloyd are fighting much smaller legal skirmishes, but they too are prevailing.

To get his charges dismissed, Faulkner showed up in court representing himself, swimsuit at the ready. Broward County Judge Lee Jay Seidman had the registered nurse hold the suit up to the light with his arm and wristwatch inside, to determine whether or not the suit was “opaque.”

The verdict: not guilty.

Police say they will continue ticketing, dismissals or no, as they feel necessary. Officers on patrol only need probable cause to issue a citation, said Greg Gibson, a captain with the DEP law enforcement division, while courts require a higher level of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, to find a person guilty.

“That does not make it an inaccurate charge,” Gibson said.

Since March, 47 people have been ticketed for trespassing-type offenses at John U. Lloyd and another state park facility, Hugh Taylor Birch in Fort Lauderdale.

“One officer was in a convenience store, and when they told someone they worked at John U. Lloyd, the person gave them a look and said they would never take their kids there again,” said Lucia Ross, the DEP spokeswoman. “This is so people can feel free to go to the park again.”

Not Mendoza, who gave up his visitor pass to the park after seven years.

“The problem with this,” said Cormican, “is they weren’t arresting the people doing something wrong.”

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