The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office has pleaded ignorance about its enforcement of an anti-sodomy law that was ruled unconstitutional a decade ago. In a statement released after The Advocate brought to light the arrests of 12 men entrapped for agreeing to private consensual sex, the department claimed to not know the law was unenforceable, but proceeded to draw comparisons with “lewd activity near our children” and “public masturbation”:
The Sheriff’s Office has not, nor will it ever, set out with the intent to target or embarrass any part of our law-abiding community. Our goal is to Protect and Serve the public. When we receive calls from the public about lewd activity near our children, we have to respond. Our park operations, conducted at the specific request of the BREC Park’s Ranger, were an attempt to deter or stop lewd activity occurring in the park near children. The deputies in the cases were acting in good faith using a statute that was still on the books of the Louisiana criminal code. […]
We want to reiterate our intent in these cases. It was NEVER to target a certain segment of our population. It was only in response to parents, park officials and members of the public concerned that our parks were not safe. When we receive reports of public masturbation, sex and other lewd activity in a park where children are playing, me MUST take these concerns seriously. Our intent was honorable, our approach, however, is something we must evaluate and change. The Sheriff’s Office is not concerned with what consenting adults do in private residences. We are concerned with what is going on in public, especially a public place frequented by children.
Whatever its intentions, the Sheriff’s office has continued to target and embarrass the gay community by comparing private, consensual sex to these other behaviors. Notably, by constantly referring to children, the department seems to be justifying its enforcement of an unconstitutional law instead of taking responsibility for wrongdoing. As The Advocate originally reported, the arrests were of men who agreed to engage in consensual sexual behavior in private without any exchange of money.
Baton Rouge Metro Councilman John Delgado did not appreciate the Sheriff’s Office’s explanation. He has demanded the department apologize to all of the men arrested in the sting, condemning the actions as “despicable, offensive, hateful, bigoted.” Pointing out that “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” Delgado inquired of Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, “Does he know that slavery is no longer around? Does he know that we have cars and no longer horse and buggies?” He has filed a public records request to determine when the District Attorney’s Office informed the Sheriff’s Office that the arrested men had committed no crime.
The Sheriff’s Office says it will work with the state legislature to have the law repealed, but that is a technicality. Whether the law is on the books does not change the fact that the state Attorney General issued guidance that it was unenforceable back in 2003 after Lawrence v. Texas was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Sheriff’s Office has deleted the statement quoted above. A new statement that has been posted that finally says the department will no longer try to enforce the law:
The Sheriff’s office apologizes that the way these investigations were handled made it appear that we were targeting the gay community. That was not our intent. The Sheriff’s Office also apologizes to anyone that was unintentionally harmed or offended by the actions of our investigations. While sections of La. R.S. 14:89, Crimes Against Nature, have not been removed from the Louisiana law code, they have been deemed unenforceable and unconstitutional. The Sheriff’s Office will not use these unconstitutional sections of the law in future cases. We are committed to working with all branches of our government, as well as the LGBT community, to find acceptable ways to keep our community safe.