"Heartbreaking" Loss: Federal Jury Clears Police of Responsibility for Threatening To Out Teen, Causing His Suicide

November 7, 2001 12:00 am

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ALLENTOWN, PA — A federal jury tonight cleared three small-town police officers of allegations that they violated a teen’s constitutional right to privacy by threatening to disclose that the teen was gay, causing him to commit suicide.

The American Civil Liberties Union and volunteer attorney David Rudovsky represented Madonna Sterling, the teen’s mother, in the federal lawsuit and called the verdict a “heartbreaking injustice” in a statement released tonight from James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU’s Lesbian & Gay Rights Project. The statement follows:

“More than four years ago, these officers threatened Marcus Wayman that they would tell his family he was gay. He was released by the police at around midnight. Sometime before 6 a.m., he put a revolver to his face and fired. He missed, and fired again, killing himself.

“In the suicide note read in court this week, he said, ‘I’m sorry grandpa, I found my future … I won’t let everyone’s life be ruined by mine.’

“We will never know what would have become of Marcus Wayman. We can never begin to understand his mother’s grief. Somehow, she found the extraordinary courage to come forward to hold these officers accountable.

“A year ago this week, Mrs. Sterling’s lawsuit secured a landmark appeals court decision on the right to privacy for lesbians and gay men. That new precedent is already helping countless teens nationwide, and it will continue to. This week, we sought justice for Mrs. Sterling and her son.

“Tonight the officers were cleared of all charges. This is a heartbreaking injustice. Public officials have a duty to protect and serve everyone, including lesbians and gay men. Rather than ‘first do no harm,’ these officers directly contributed to a young man’s death.

“Sometimes we win cases; sometimes we don’t. Rarely is the pain of losing as profound as it is tonight. We grieve all over again for Marcus Wayman, for his mother and for gay people across America.

“For so many people who share in this loss and wonder what can be done: Get involved to help gay youth. Volunteer with an LGBT youth group. Give your skills, your time or your money to groups that help families and youth understand sexual orientation. Help get schools, police stations and others to conduct training on handling anti-gay harassment. Let that, not a misguided jury verdict, be the legacy of this family.”

More information about the case is online at /node/9404

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