A federal lawsuit has been filed against the San Jose Police Department over undercover lewd-conduct stings that unfairly targeted gay men, Mercury News reports.
The lawsuit comes more than a year after Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Jose S. Franco ruled that these “decoy” operations, conducted during a 17-month period in 2014-15 at a public men’s room in Columbus Park, were unconstitutional. Franco dismissed the misdemeanor charges against six men accused of loitering with intent to commit a lewd and lascivious or unlawful act.
The new complaint seeks monetary damages of at least $1 million for five of the six defendants cleared by the June 2016 ruling. Prominent gay-rights attorney Bruce Nickerson is also seeking class-action status for the lawsuit in hopes that it will help end the undercover police solicitation of gay men in public parks and restrooms.
“They’re invalid and discriminatory,” said Nickerson of the stings, “because they target male-male public sex and not also male-female public sex.”
San Jose police say that while the stings were conducted due to citizen complaints and officer observations of unlawful activity in the park, these operations have since been discontinued.
“We have a responsibility to respond to complaints of crimes and are always looking for other ways to do so,” police chief Eddie Garcia said in a statement. “We have not used these type of undercover operations in response to public complaints of unlawful lewd-conduct in the more than two years since these arrests occurred. We are still responding and enforcing the law by utilizing other techniques.”
“The LGBT community often gets forgotten in efforts to increase trust with the police, but in the past two years, we are doing more than ever to make sure that is not the case in San Jose,” Garcia continued. “We created an LGBT advisory committee, established an LGBT liaison officer program and launched a first-in-the-nation police recruiting campaign featuring same-sex couples.”
Nickerson argues that the undercover enforcement preys on men struggling with their sexuality and looking for a safe place to explore it.
“I have no objection to uniformed cops doing patrol, but when they go decoy, that’s what makes it invalid,” he said, explaining how the officers falsely express sexual interest in their vulnerable targets.
“It’s one thing to be arrested. What’s worse is to be arrested and deprived of your liberties because you’re gay. That’s essentially what’s going on.”