Last edited: December 06, 2004


ACLU Challenges Detroit Police Practice of Profiling Gay Men; Police Actions Unconstitutional

Statement of Jay Kaplan, Staff Attorney
ACLU GLBT Project Monday, December 17, 2001

The ACLU of Michigan, on behalf of four men and the Triangle Foundation, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Michigan today challenging the constitutionality of the undercover sting operations in Rouge Park conducted by the Sixth Precinct of the Detroit City Police Department. Gay men or men perceived to be gay have been targeted for arrest under Detroit’s "Annoying Persons" and "Solicitation and Accosting" ordinances.

In order to entrap men throughout the park, undercover officers would follow or approach men they perceived to be gay, make eye contact and encourage the men to respond in a sexual manner. If a man merely responded with a look, gesture or conversation that the officers perceived to have sexual connotations, the man was arrested under these ordinances and his vehicle would be impounded. He was then required to pay $900, plus towing and storage costs for the return of his vehicle. The money was not refunded, even if the court dismissed charges under these ordinances.

None of these arrests, under these ordinances and through the Rouge Park undercover decoy operation involved public sexual activity or prostitution. The undercover operation was part of the "morality units" operations conducted city-wide by all precincts to eliminate public sexual activity and prostitution.

We believe that the actions of the Sixth Precinct to profile and arrest gay men or men perceived to be gay under these ordinances are unconstitutional in four respects: 1) The ordinances are overbroad and vague by not providing adequate notice regarding prohibited conduct; 2) they violate our plaintiffs right to have engaged in constitutionally protected speech and associational activity under the First Amendment; 3) the singling out of gay men for arrest and prosecution violates Equal Protection rights; and 4) the police action of impounding vehicles and the practice of charging fees for the return, towing and storage of vehicles constitutes an illegal seizure in violation of due process. There is a history to these types of operations where the police have used undercover operations to target and arrest gay men. In 1997, the ACLU of Maryland had a similar lawsuit against police for sting operations in parks Baltimore-area. The ACLU of Northern California challenged ordinances that would have allowed police to seize, claim and sell the vehicles driven by people accused—even if they are later found innocent.

Deborah A. LaBelle, ACLU Cooperating Attorney, will be lead counsel on this case along with Jay Kaplan, Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director and Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director.

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