An East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office task force has arrested at least 12 men since 2011 under a sodomy law invalidated in 2003 by the U.S. Supreme Court, the most recent of which was a July 18 arrest of a man who merely discussed or agreed to have sex with a male undercover agent, The Baton Rouge Advocate reported.
Public sex and solicitation of “unnatural carnal copulation” for money are illegal in Louisiana, however the police sting is not targeting prostitution. The men arrested had agreed to have sex away from the park at a private residence, District Attorney Hillar Moore III told the newspaper.
“The Sheriff’s Office’s intentions are all good,” Moore said. “But from what I’ve seen of these cases, legally, we found no criminal violation.”
Baton Rouge Metropolitan Councilman John Delgado has called for an apology from Sheriff Sid Gautreaux to the men arrested and the entire parish.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that a Texas law against oral or anal sex was invalid. Louisiana was among nine states which had such laws. Richard Ieyoub, then attorney general, said the high court’s ruling made Louisiana’s law unenforceable.
However, “crime against nature” remains part of Louisiana law, punishable by up to five years at hard labor and a $2,000 fine. The criminal code, accessible through the Legislature’s website, states that “Crime against nature is the unnatural carnal copulation by a human being with another of the same sex or opposite sex or with an animal,” without defining what makes copulation unnatural.
Gautreaux has told the Capital City Alliance, a city-wide nonprofit for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, that deputies “will no longer be enforcing this law until the courts or the legislature removes it,” the organization said in an emailed statement.
The sheriff’s office sent a statement Sunday to the newspaper saying it “should have taken a different approach” to worries about park safety.
“We will consult with others in the legislative and judicial branches to see what can be done to remove this law from the criminal code that each deputy receives and to also find alternative ways to deter sexual and lewd activity from our parks,” it said.
The sheriff’s office said it only meant to respond to calls from parents, park officials and members of the public about safety concerns at parks.
“When we receive reports of public masturbation, sex and other lewd activity in a park where children are playing, we must take these concerns seriously,” the statement says. “Our intent was honorable. Our approach, however, is something we must evaluate and change.”
In an email to the sheriff’s office, Delgado wrote that its response Sunday sensationalized the matter by using terms like “lewd conduct” and “public masturbation” and suggesting that children were present during the arrests.
“The newspaper article makes it quite clear that nothing of the sort occurred in these 12 arrests,” Delgado says. “These men were arrested even though they were innocent of any crime.”
Delgado said he will file public records requests Monday to determine when the District Attorney’s Office informed the Sheriff’s Office that the men targeted had committed no crime.
“You cannot simply hide behind not knowing that the law had been changed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2003,” Delgado’s email says. “The Sheriff’s actions are a violation of the civil rights of these men under the 5th and 14th amendments. Ignorance of the law is no excuse … Doesn’t your office tell people that all the time?”
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks said the office has no record of being informed that the District Attorney’s Office would not pursue charges in the cases.
Sodomy laws, though invalidated by the Supreme Court, remain on the books in Louisiana, Idaho, Utah, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.