Recent case involving prominent gay Democrat illustrates consequences associated with public lewdness arrest
Public humiliation and loss of employment or stature.
Attorney’s fees and fines.
A trip to jail and probation or incarceration for up to one year.
These are some of the potential consequences of being arrested on a charge of public lewdness, which is defined as engaging in a sex act in public.
And the Dallas Police Department’s vice unit is on patrol, whether it be in parks, bathhouses, adult theaters, bars or restrooms.
“In one form or fashion, we’re going to be there,” said DPD Deputy Chief Julian Bernal, who is over vice and narcotics. “We may not be there every day, but it’s a roll of the dice. Anyone who frequents any one of these locations should be keenly aware that police are making arrests.”
Bernal’s warning came in the wake of the recent arrest of prominent local gay Democrat Shannon Bailey, 49, who was charged with public lewdness June 14.
According to police reports, two vice unit officers observed Bailey performing oral sex on another suspect at White Rock Lake Park.
But it doesn’t take nearly so much to constitute public lewdness under state statute, according to defense attorney Roger Herrera, who frequently represents people charged with the crime.
Theoretically, public lewdness could involve something as tame as touching someone over their clothing while standing in a bar.
“You’ve got to be careful even just going to a club to hear music, if someone walks up to you and starts getting friendly, you’ve got to be concerned that hey, we are breaking the law here,” Herrera said.
Texas penal code defines sexual contact as “any touching of the anus, breast or any part of the genitals of another person with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.”
The word public also has been interpreted broadly, Herrera said, even applying to rooms inside adult theaters.
“Just because they may be behind a door, it’s still public,” he said.
Vice unit officers not only look for citizens having sex. They may try to entice people to touch them or offer them money.
“The sure way to know that the person’s not a cop is, you’ve got to let them touch you first,” Herrera said. “[Officers] winking and saying, “‘Yeah, I’d like to get to know you,’ and, “‘What do you want to do?’ the courts have said that’s not enough for entrapment.”
Herrera said he believes the vice unit may sometimes unfairly target gay men, but Bernal said the unit spends most of its time conducting stings with undercover female officers posing as prostitutes.
“This is not about gay or nongay,” Bernal said.
The vice unit does regularly patrols areas known for gay cruising, Bernal said. Those include Flagpole Hill and East Lawther Drive near White Rock Lake, and Reverchon and Lee parks in Oak Lawn. And the unit monitors Web sites with information about cruising areas.
“There are Web sites on the Internet that tell people where to go to have indiscriminate sex in parks,” Bernal said. “The police department is keenly aware of those sites.”
But much of the vice unit’s response is generated by complaints, he added.
“You have citizens who are complaining about the fact that people are having sex or exposing themselves in a public place, and that’s something we have to take seriously,” Bernal said. “You have children and families, and that’s not the type of society that the city of Dallas is looking for. That’s not the message we’re trying to send.”
When the vice unit makes an arrest, it typically doesn’t take suspects to jail, according to Laura Martin, DPD’s liaison to the LGBT community. However, they still face charges.
“It’s the exact same thing as being taken to jail,” Martin said. “It’s still an arrest.”
After officers identify, photograph and release suspects, they generate reports that are submitted to the District Attorney’s Office, Martin said.
DPD posts suspects’ arrest information, including mug shots, on its Web site.
The District Attorney’s Office issues arrest warrants, and DPD’s fugitive unit takes suspects into custody. They are booked into jail, where they must post bond to be released, and are given court dates. Public lewdness is a class-A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in the county jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.
In addition to the severe, long-term impact it can have on individuals’ lives, cruising is a detriment to the entire LGBT community, according to Patti Fink, chair of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s Political Action Committee.
Fink said the activity serves to perpetuate stereotypes in the minds of non-LGBT citizens.
“It’s those very stereotypes that, if we could overcome those, really would help to advance our equality,” Fink said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 13, 2007