L.A. City Attorney's Office Charged with Cover-Up of LAPD Harassment of Gay Men
Drops case to avoid releasing records on lewd-conduct arrests of gay men
(LOS ANGELES, CA, July 25, 1997) - The Los Angeles City Attorney's Office is helping the Police Department continue its discriminatory use of lewd-conduct laws against gay men, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said today.
"The LAPD wants to hide the fact that it applies different standards to gay men than to heterosexuals in the course of hunting for gay men to arrest for supposed lewd conduct," said Jon W. Davidson, Supervising Attorney for Lambda's Western Regional Office in Los Angeles.
Lambda criticized the City Attorney's Office for evading a possible court order to release LAPD records that could reveal a pattern of unequal enforcement of the law, after the City Attorney's Office late yesterday dropped a lewd-conduct case it had pursued against a Los Angeles man for the past 18 months.
In support of one defendant, Donald Chapman, Lambda and the L.A.-based Center for Law in the Public Interest (CLIPI) submitted friend-of-the-court papers to the California Supreme Court in May of this year. On June 18, the state's highest court ordered a lower appellate court to hear Chapman's case, a move expected to open the door to the LAPD's arrest records.
Lambda Staff Attorney Myron Dean Quon, assisting Davidson in the case, noted, "Just as the City Attorney's Office was facing a court deadline for proceeding with the case, it dropped the charges. It clearly is trying to make the prior proceedings moot to evade hearings and a trial that could have embarrassed the police."
Lambda also has filed a Public Records Act request seeking LAPD records about arrests for lewd conduct. Davidson said, "It is unconscionable that the L.A. City Attorney still brings cases like the one against Donald Chapman. But, in addition to dropping individual cases like this one, that office needs to stop fighting legitimate attempts to uncover how the LAPD uses these laws as a ploy for harassing gay men.
"Lambda calls upon the Los Angeles Police Commission and the L.A. City Council to investigate vice squad records and to see to it that the LAPD no longer uses these laws in unequal and prohibited ways."
Chapman was arrested in January of 1996 by a Los Angeles police officer, the lone witness present, who claimed he saw Chapman masturbating in front of a urinal in a public men's room in North Hollywood, a charge Chapman absolutely denies.
"I sought the release of these documents because I wanted the public to be able to see that the LAPD blatantly targets gay men with these laws, even when those arrested have done nothing wrong," said Chapman, a 46-year-old gay man who is a registered nurse and will be attending law school in the fall.
Chapman's lawyer, Thomas Hunter Russell, said, "The police don't bother non-gay couples along Mulholland Drive -- and that's fine -- but they routinely scour the bushes to arrest gay men and even send young male officers to parks and rest rooms to solicit gay men and then arrest them. The LAPD's harassment of the gay community has got to stop."
Lewd conduct is defined as "touching of the genitals, buttocks, or female breast for the purpose of sexual arousal, annoyance, or offense, if the actor knows or should know of the presence of persons who may be offended by his conduct."
At the trial court level of his prosecution, Chapman sought LAPD arrest records, training materials, and internal memos concerning the enforcement of lewd-conduct laws so that he could demonstrate that the police intentionally target gay men for arrest. Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Michelle Rosenblatt originally granted most of Chapman's request but largely reversed her ruling when the City Attorney's Office fought for reconsideration.
Chapman appealed, joined by Lambda and CLIPI, but the Court of Appeals refused to hear the case, prompting Chapman to go to the California Supreme Court.
Commenting on the LAPD's history of discriminatory treatment of gay people, Davidson pointed to the landmark 1992 Christopher Commission report, which said that the LAPD is "far more aggressive in enforcing minor infractions against suspected homosexuals than against presumed heterosexuals." This finding echoed the California Supreme Court's observation 18 years ago that studies had found that, in enforcing lewd-conduct laws, the LAPD selected enforcement techniques and locations designed to arrest gay men for conduct that did not result in arrest when engaged in by non-gay people.
Davidson added, "Unfortunately, little has changed. An internal LAPD study released just this April confirmed that the LAPD continues to target gay men and areas they frequent for unwarranted, discriminatory, and harassing law enforcement activity. It's long past time that an end was put to this violation of the Constitution's command that our laws be applied equally to everyone."
(People v. Chapman, L.A. Municipal Court Case No. 6PN00766; Chapman v. Municipal Court, L.A. Superior Court Case No. BS043052; Chapman v. Superior Court, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District No. B109849; California Supreme Court No. S060699)