Lambda Legal Files Federal Discrimination Lawsuit Against Westchester County Police

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"In this country, the police do not get to add an extra punishment to people they don't like."
October 11, 2012

***Special Note to Media: See Below***

(New York, October 11, 2012) - Today Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of Joseph Teevan against Westchester County Department of Public Safety, its Commissioner, George Longworth, and other high-level officers.  Against court orders, the police department released sealed information--including name, photo, town, and charges--about Teevan and at least 12 other men, who had been arrested weeks before in a sex sting operation, dubbed "Operation Overexposed," in Westchester's Saxon Woods Park.

"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," said Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal. "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."

On, October 14, 2011, Westchester County Department of Public Safety sent a press release to approximately 200 media email addresses boasting of 16 arrests in Operation Overexposed, including the men's names, mug shots, towns of residence, and original arrest charges. 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, the local news ran the story prominently along with names and photos of the men involved and interviews of Department officers. Commissioner Longworth is quoted in many of the accounts explicitly asserting that, "If you come to Saxon Woods Park for this purpose, you will be arrested, and your name will be released to the media." According to the Department's 2011 annual report, the Department made over 1,500 arrests that year.  Yet the Department's online press archives include only ten press releases announcing arrests in 2011.  In contrast to the Department's treatment of the Operation Overexposed publicity, coming well after the criminal charges had been dropped, the other press releases were issued within just days of the arrests, before court orders to seal arrest records would be expected.

Public Safety's unlawful release of the information sent shock waves through Mr. 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.

"I was horrified to wake up on October 14, 2011 to see my picture all over the news with police reports of my arrest for criminal charges that already had been dropped," said Joseph Teevan. "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."

The lawsuit asserts that the Westchester County Public Safety Department and its officers violated the federal Constitution's guarantee of equal protection, as well as state law, by singling out gay men for harsher treatment and illegally identifying them to the media.  The lawsuit also charges the Defendants with refusing to comply with legal requirements that they destroy Mr. Teevan's mug shot and fingerprints following dismissal of the criminal charges against him.

Read the complaint:

***Special Note to Media***
In an effort to avoid inflicting more damage on Mr. Teevan and to respect the privacy of the men whose names were unlawfully released by the Westchester County Public Safety Department but who are not party to this lawsuit, Lambda Legal requests that media outlets not use the names and photos of these men when reporting this story. In addition, if news outlets feel compelled to run an image of Mr. Teevan, we can provide a photo in order to avoid using the mug shot that was illegally released by the police. ***

Teevan  v. George N. Longworth, et al.  

Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal, is handling the case.  Co-counsel in this case are Frank Wohl, Andrew Lee, and Patrick Toomey of Lankler Siffert & Wohl LLP.