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Activist questions Memorial Park arrests of more than twenty men (UPDATE)

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by Megan Smith

Houston-Uptown-Memorial-Park-X2UPDATE 8/10/13: A total of twenty-two arrests were made by the Houston Police Department (HPD) during the sting operation that took place on August 1 in Memorial Park, according to activist Ray Hill. HPD is currently reporting only seven arrests.

Hill told OutSmart on Friday that seven arrests were made on the south side of the park, but an additional fifteen arrests were made on the north side. Hill believes that HPD is choosing to only report the seven arrests from the south side.

Hill has been in contact with eight of the arrested men, further proving that the police department’s reported numbers are incorrect, he said. From his contacts, Hill said he knows of six charges of indecent exposure and more than one charge of solicitation of prostitution. No one was arrested for sex in public, he said.

Hill also possesses a letter from one of the arrested men detailing his first-hand experience during the sting—including the officers’ suggestive attire and sexual gestures leading up to the man’s arrest.

Several of the men are in heterosexual marriages and were simply beckoned into the bushes, followed to see what was going on, and were then arrested, Hill said.

He also noted that the mug shots, names, and ages of seven of the arrested men are currently posted on KTRK ABC Channel 13’s website, even though none have been convicted.  “It is clearly about shaming gay people,” Hill told OutSmart. “We haven’t dealt with shit like this since the 1950s.”

However, Noel Freeman, President of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, told KTRK that he supports stings like this one. “These folks are people who have gone out and they have done something inappropriate and illegal and public,” he said. “They don’t represent those of us who abide by the law and are responsible.”

Hill advised those arrested to take advantage of pre-trial services to help with their release.  “Be aware of pre-trial services that will facilitate your getting out of jail without spending money,” he said.

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UPDATE 8/8/13: The sting operation mentioned in the original article below only netted seven arrests, HPD spokesman John Cannon told The Dallas Voice. Activist Ray Hill previously reported the number of arrests to be more than twenty after he spoke with one of the men arrested.

The men were not charged with solicitation of prostitution, but rather indecent exposure after “voluntarily exposing themselves,” Cannon said. The men willingly exposed themselves in public and the sting wasn’t entrapment, he said.

Police conduct a sting in the park “on as frequently a basis that we can because of complaints,” Cannon told The Dallas Voice. “For the most part, undercover officers have been conducting similar operations for years, so this is nothing new,” he said. “This has been an ongoing issue in this particular part of Memorial Park.”

Cannon declined to comment on the attire of the officers because police don’t discuss operational tactics, The Dallas Voice reported.

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Activist Ray Hill
Ray Hill

ORIGINAL STORY 8/7/13: More than twenty men were arrested in Memorial Park last Thursday, each allegedly charged with solicitation of prostitution, according to long-time LGBT activist Ray Hill.

Hill, who said he has been in contact with one of the men arrested, explained that eight to ten male vice officers dressed in Speedos and suggestive T-shirts, were along the jogging trail during daylight hours, attempting to beckon male joggers and walkers into the bushes. “[My source] tells me that one of their shirts had what resembled a chrome penis on the back, and some of the other T-shirts looked to be gay pride affiliated,” Hill said.

Any individuals who responded to the officers’ calls and followed them into the bushes were automatically presumed to be looking for a sexual encounter, were handcuffed, and arrested, Hill said.

A second group of officers was possibly located by the men’s restrooms as well, Hill said. “This was definitely a sting operation,” he said. “I’ve called it worse than that. It was literally seducing people into arrest.”

The men arrested were then rounded up and put into two different vans parked nearby, Hill said. Hill’s source who has chosen to remain anonymous was then held in a Houston city jail for thirty-six hours, he said. “We have a lesbian mayor, a ‘gay friendly’ police chief, and a SCOTUS decision (Lawrence v. Texas) finding the law against homosexual conduct unconstitutional, yet these men had to post bond, were held an illegally long period of time in Houston City Jail, they must hire lawyers, defend against the charges, some will lose their jobs, and make their family lives confusing at best,” Hill said.

The Houston Police Department conducted two similar stings in Memorial Park in 2006—both of which Hill claimed unfairly targeted gay men—netting more than thirty arrests, according to Houstonist. Hill also compares this recent operation to one that took place years ago, in which his friend, a married Methodist minister, was charged with soliciting a police officer on three separate occasions after following the officer thinking he was someone who needed “help or pastoral counseling.”

“The cops are going to say they were in uniform [during these arrests],” Hill said. “To the vice officers, this is a sport-like activity to impose on perverts—and by ‘perverts,’ I mean ‘queers.’”

Megan Smith is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Megan Smith

Megan Smith is the Assistant Editor for OutSmart Magazine.
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