Lawyers: Publicizing gay men’s arrests “‘unfair’
They are presumed innocent. And in some cases, they’ve already been exonerated.
Yet their names and mug shots appear on the Dallas Police Department’s Web site, listed as having been arrested for prostitution, public lewdness or indecent exposure.
DPD officials say it’s a deterrent, but local defense attorneys who represent people charged with the crimes call it unfair.
“I’ve got an exceptional problem with that,” said defense attorney Tim Menchu.
“That’s just wrong to put them up there as if they’ve committed some offense when the presumption is innocent until proven guilty.”
Menchu noted the Web site doesn’t list those charged with seemingly more serious crimes, with the exception of fugitives.
“You can’t find someone on there who’s charged with murder or rape,” he said. “It’s simply there to serve as public humiliation.”
Menchu also said he’s had to threaten a lawsuit to get DPD to remove an exonerated client from the site.
The department complied before the suit could be filed to avoid having it apply to all people on the site, he said.
The Web site currently has arrests dating back to July 2006.
“I’ve got to fight tooth and nail to get the police to remove the photographs from the Web site of clients who’ve been exonerated 100 percent,” Menchu said.
Chris Bowers, chief of litigation for the Dallas city attorney’s office, said officials would consider removing people from the site who’ve been exonerated.
“If an individual was exonerated, certainly that person if they would like their information removed should contact the Police Department or the city attorney’s office, and we’ll be glad to look at it,” Bowers said.
But Bowers maintained the site is on strong legal ground. He said his office has researched the matter twice and determined that case law from around the country falls in the city’s favor.
“An arrest is a public record, and people do not have a right of privacy to it,” Bowers said. “Both times we thought the law was very clear.”
Not all people charged with public lewdness, indecent exposure and prostitution appear on the site, according to DPD Deputy Chief Julian Bernal, who is over the vice and narcotics units. That’s because some are arrested by patrol officers who don’t share information with the vice unit, which maintains the site, he said.
“We’re not going to get every single one of them, but if it’s a vice arrest, we should capture that,” Bernal said.
Bernal also said the site has been an effective deterrent since its launch about three years ago.
“We’ve been checking our records, and as far as we can see, we’ve only had one person who was a repeat offender who we’ve caught,” he said.
Bernal said that surveillance of public facilities and businesses frequently are generated by complaints rather than routine patrols.
Bernal noted that media outlets regularly report arrests even though suspects haven’t been convicted.
“The newspaper prints the names and prints the photos of people who get arrested every day,” he said. “We’re not doing anything different than the media does.”
Sgt. Jamie Matthews, a spokeswoman for DPD, also defended the Web site, which has a disclaimer at the top stating that suspects have not been convicted.
“It’s used as a deterrent, basically,” Matthews said. “Whether or not they are found guilty, the fact of it is, they were arrested. That fact’s going to remain the same.”
Matthews said the department does not consider the potential consequences for people of appearing on the site, such as loss of employment.
“We arrest the people,” she said. “As far as their personal lives, that’s not something that we get involved in.”
The practice of posting prostitution arrests on the Internet has become increasingly common around the country, but it’s unclear whether any other police departments include arrests for public lewdness or indecent exposure.
DPD posts names and photos only of those arrested for patronizing prostitution, and not soliciting, in an effort to avoid inadvertent advertising, Bernal said.
Former Mayor Laura Miller said she and other city councilmembers supported the concept of posting the arrests.
“We were having tremendous problems trying to control crime,” she said. “The council was trying to come up with ideas for getting those statistics down.”
Former City Councilman John Loza, a criminal defense attorney, said he opposed the idea.
“I didn’t think it was fair for us to post people’s names and pictures on a Web site without due process of law,” Loza said.
The Web site is www.dallaspolice.net.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 27, 2007