Lambda Legal Sues Police Over Unlawful Release of Sex Sting Arrest Info
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Lambda Legal filed a federal discrimination lawsuit today against police in Westchester County, N.Y. Against court orders, the police department released to the media sealed information—including names and photos—about at least 13 men arrested in a sex sting.
There was no mention of the fact that the criminal charges against nearly all the men had already been dropped, with only non-criminal violations (the equivalent of traffic tickets) issued against them, and their records sealed by court order and state law. Over the next days, local news media ran the story prominently along with names and photos of the men involved.
Lambda Legal is suing the Westchester County Department of Public Safety, Commissioner George Longworth and other high-level officers, on behalf of Joseph Teevan, who was arrested in the sting, dubbed "Operation Overexposed," in Saxon Woods Park.
The department's unlawful release sent shock waves through Teevan's life, harming his reputation, causing adverse employment consequences, and causing him even to contemplate suicide. He continues to be subjected to derisive and hurtful comments at work and in his community. He says:
I was horrified to wake up (...) to see my picture all over the news with police reports of my arrest for criminal charges that already had been dropped. I was shocked that the police would ignore the law and release sealed information about me. Bringing this lawsuit is very difficult because it could stir up the old stories again. But the Westchester County Police need to be stopped from hurting other gay men in the future. It's important to stand up to bullies, even if they're the police.
Commissioner Longworth was quoted in news coverage of Operation Overexposed as saying, "If you come to Saxon Woods Park for this purpose, you will be arrested, and your name will be released to the media."
The department made over 1,500 arrests in 2011, according to its annual report. Yet their online press archives include only 10 press releases announcing arrests that year.
Susan Sommer, Lambda Legal's Director of Constitutional Litigation, says:
The misconduct of the Westchester County police is the latest manifestation of generations-old abusive police tactics to target LGBT people for humiliation and harassment. In this country, the police do not get to add an extra punishment to people they don't like. In keeping with the presumption of innocence, people should not be tried and convicted by the police and the press. The Westchester County Public Safety Department went out of its way to flout court sealing orders and state law expressly prohibiting release of this arrest information, in order to publicly humiliate and stigmatize Mr. Teevan and other gay men.
Read Lambda Legal's complaint here.