Lawsuit filed over 2007 gay sex sting

40 men arrested, one committed suicide in ‘highly unusual action’

by Collier Rutledge    
Published: October 18, 2008 in News

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Lambda Legal has filed suit against this eastern Tennessee city and Police Chief John Lowry on behalf of a man arrested in a September 2007 public sex sting.

As reported in Q-Notes last October, the Johnson City Police Department arrested 40 men in late September — including one preacher and employees of school systems — in undercover sex stings in the city’s public parks.

According to The Johnson City Press, the police targeted two parks they felt had become known for sexual activity. The report of the sting was featured prominently as the lead headline on the paper’s front page and included names, addresses and photographs of each man arrested.

One of the area’s television news stations, WJHL Channel 11, also carried news of the undercover operation and posted on its website the Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) press release, which also included names, addresses and photographs.

The men arrested ranged in age from 26 to 85 and lived in areas scattered across Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.

The media attention, called a “highly unusual action” by Lambda Legal, possibly contributed to the suicide of one man less than 24 hours after charges against him were announced and the names, photos and home addresses of the arrested men appeared in local media. Arrestee Jerry McCloud, 55, of Newland, N.C., was found dead in his home around 10 a.m. on Oct. 2.

On behalf of arrestee Kenneth Giles, Lambda Legal claims that in approximately 600 other press releases issued by the police department over the course of one year, none pertaining to arrests was accompanied by photos or personally approved by the police chief.

As a result of the charges and media attention, several men have lost their jobs, including Giles, who was fired from his job as a nurse at the local VA hospital.

“I don’t understand how the police department can release photos of one group and not any others,” Giles said in a Lambda press release. “I lost my livelihood because my arrest was treated differently.”
The legal organization is arguing that the Johnson City Police Department violated federal equal protection law by singling out the men arrested in the public sex sting and subjecting them to harsher treatment by making their images available to the media.

“In America, the police do not get to add an extra punishment to people they don’t like,” said Greg Nevins, supervising senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Atlanta-based Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta. “They also do not get to ignore the principle of innocent until proven guilty. The JCPD went out of its way to humiliate Mr. Giles and caused irreparable damage.”

The group also claims that the police department’s actions are “the latest in a long history of the police going beyond legitimate law enforcement measures to take extraordinary action designed to target gay men for humiliation and harassment.”

In October, a Johnson City resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told Q-Notes that area police have a history of questionable tactics when it comes to sex sting operations.

When he was charged with prostitution after accepting a small sum of money to help pay for a hotel room, he says the police used the media as an intimidation.

“If you will agree to help catch other men, then I can help keep this out of the newspaper,” he said an officer told him.