ACLU Challenges Detroit Police Profiling of Gay Men in Parks

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
December 17, 2001 12:00 am

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ACLU of Michigan
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Statement of Jay Kaplan,
Staff Attorney, ACLU of Michigan


DETROIT–The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Michigan challenging the constitutionality of undercover sting operations conducted in Rouge Park by Detroit police. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of four area men and the Triangle Foundation, a gay advocacy group.

Gay men or men perceived to be gay have been targeted for arrest by Sixth Precinct officers under Detroit’s “”Annoying Persons”” and “”Solicitation and Accosting”” ordinances. We believe that these city ordinances are too vague and do not adequately define what is considered prohibited behavior. The undercover operation was part of the “”morality units”” operations conducted city-wide by all precincts and meant to eliminate public sexual activity and prostitution. None of the arrests made in Rouge Park under these ordinances however, involved public sexual activity or prostitution.

In order to entrap men throughout the park, undercover officers would follow or approach men they perceived to be gay, make eye contact and encourage the men to respond in a sexual manner. If a man merely responded with a look, gesture or conversation that the officers perceived to have sexual connotations, the man was arrested and his vehicle would be impounded. He was then required to pay $900, plus towing and storage costs for the return of his vehicle. The money was not refunded, even if the court dismissed charges under these ordinances.

We believe that the actions of the Sixth Precinct to profile and arrest gay men or men perceived to be gay under these ordinances are unconstitutional in four respects:

1) The ordinances are overbroad and vague by not providing adequate notice regarding prohibited conduct;

2) The ordinances violate the right to engage in constitutionally protected speech and associational activity under the First Amendment;

3) The singling out of gay men for arrest and prosecution violates Equal Protection rights; and

4) The police action of impounding vehicles and the practice of charging fees for the return, towing and storage of vehicles constitutes an illegal seizure in violation of due process.

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