Last edited: July 30, 2005

Calls for Probe into Treatment of Gays Arrested in New Jersey Park

The Associated Press, July 28, 2005

TRENTON, NEW JERSEY—Two New Jersey civil rights organizations want an investigation into reports gay men are being targeted for lewd conduct arrests by police at a New Jersey park and then treated harshly by a judge trying their cases.

The demand was made in a letter sent Wednesday to acting Gov. Richard J. Codey and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and Garden State Equality.

“We seek this investigation not to condone public lewdness, but to stop the disparate treatment of gays and straights,” said Jeanne LoCicero, an ACLU attorney.

The park stretches from Fort Lee in northeastern Bergen County to Bear Mountain, N.Y.

LoCicero said the organizations were acting on reports that Palisades Interstate Park Police were using undercover officers to lure men into engaging in lewd conduct, then arresting them.

She said the reports came from lawyers representing men in these cases and from a story in New York City LGBT newspaper, Gay City News.

The organizations said they encourage arrests for lewd conduct but that by only using male—and not female—officers the police are discriminating against gay men.

Palisades Interstate Parkway Police Chief John Parr denied his officers target gays.

“It’s not the sexual orientation,” said Parr. “It’s the activity. We have arrested straight individuals as well as gay people.”

Although Parr did not have exact numbers, he said approximately 35 arrests for lewd conduct have been made this year through June and at least ninety in 2004. Most of those arrested were men, said Parr.

He said the arrests are a combination of police officers actually seeing lewd conduct in progress or undercover work. Parr added that the fact more men are arrested is simply a reflection of the fact that more men perform such crimes in the park. Parr said he’d consider using a female undercover agent as well, but his 30-member police force has only one woman who doesn’t do undercover work.

According to Parr, in addition to enforcing lewd conduct laws, undercover officers also make narcotics arrests and enforce traffic rules.

The civil rights organizations are also concerned about reports a judge who rules on lewd conduct cases in the park, Stephen Zaben, discriminates against gay men.

LoCicero said attorneys have told her Zaben hands out harsher sentences to men arrested for lewd conduct with other men than to heterosexuals.

She also cited a report in the Gay City News saying Zaben sometimes ordered men arrested for lewd conduct with men to undergo psychiatric counseling, something the paper said was not required of a heterosexual couple arrested in July for lewd conduct.

Through a secretary, Zaben declined to comment.

While the organizations are primarily concerned about the possible discriminatory practices, they also question whether using plainclothes officers is an effective policing technique or whether other methods like using more uniformed officers would work better, LoCicero said.

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