Westchester Police Department Sued For Outing Gay Park-Fornicators
Saxon Woods Park in Westchester County was such a popular place for men to meet and have sex that in 2011, the Westchester Department of Public Safety conducted a sting dubbed "Operation Overexposed" to curb the public fornication.
On October 14, the Department put out a press release announcing that the sting had netted 16 arrests. Included in the release was the names, mug shots, towns of residence, and original charges against the men arrested.
"If you come to Saxon Woods Park for this purpose, you will be arrested, and your name will be released to the media," WDPS Commissioner George Longworth said at the time.
Nowhere in Longworth's press release was the fact that the criminal charges against nearly all the men had already been dropped, with only non-criminal violations (the equivalent of traffic tickets) issued against them, and their records sealed by court order and state law.
Now, more than a dozen of the men outed by Longworth as gay public-fornicators -- including Joseph Teevan, who says he considered suicide after getting so publicly outed -- are suing the WDPS,
"The misconduct of the Westchester County police is the latest manifestation of generations' old abusive police tactics to target LGBT people for humiliation and harassment. In this country, the police do not get to add an extra punishment to people they don't like," says Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal, the firm representing the outted public-fornicators. "In keeping with the presumption of innocence, people should not be tried and convicted by the police and the press. The Westchester County Public Safety Department went out of its way to flout court sealing orders and state law expressly prohibiting release of this arrest information, in order to publicly humiliate and stigmatize Mr. Teevan and other gay men."
Lambda Legal notes that, according to the WDPS' 2011 annual report,
the Department made over 1,500 arrests that year. However, it only
issued 10 press releases announcing arrests -- the majority of which
were issued within days of the arrests, not after criminal charges
already had been dropped and there were court orders to seal the
Teevan, as we mentioned, says he's contemplated suicide after his uber-public arrest, and continues to get harassed at work.
"I was horrified to wake up on October 14, 2011 to see my picture all over the news with police reports of my arrest for criminal charges that already had been dropped," Teevan says. "I was shocked that the police would ignore the law and release sealed information about me. Bringing this lawsuit is very difficult because it could stir up the old stories again. But the Westchester County Police need to be stopped from hurting other gay men in the future. It's important to stand up to bullies, even if they're the police."