Palm Springs Officer Apologizes for Sex Sting Slur
An investigation into sex sting tactics used during the summer of 2009 in Palm Springs has concluded that "portions of the operation were not conducted according to professional standards," including an epithet used by an officer in the course of the operation.
A June 28 Bay Area Reporter story said that the Palm Springs police department mounted the sex sting operation in the Warm Sands area over a three-day period in June, 2009, in response to reports of public sex acts.
"The arrests took place after a decoy officer coaxed each of the 19 men to expose his penis in a dark parking lot of a gay resort," the Bay Area Reporter story said. "The men are being charged with penal code section 314, a charge that will require the men, if convicted, to register as sex offenders for life. The men would be on a sex offender registry in a database accessible to law enforcement only."
The article noted that attorney Bruce Nickerson brought attention to use of a slur caught on a recording of a conversation between a police decoy and a police officer who was in radio contact with him. The officer told the decoy that he could simply ask suspects, ""Are you a cocksucker?"
Nickerson also pointed out that the arrests were for an offense that would tar each of the men for life. "Every person was arrested for a registerable act, indecent exposure," the attorney noted. "In the video of the sting which I reviewed, there were many opportunities to arrest persons for the less serious lewd act in public. But the cops persisted in their enticement game until the person was cajoled into actually exposing himself and then and only then was the arrest made."
A second epithet was hurled by Police Chief David Dominguez, reported the blog The Mad Professah Lectures on Dec. 29. According to the posting, Dominguez, after initially denying he had called the men placed under arrest during the sex sting operation "a bunch of filthy motherfuckers," eventually apologized for the slur.
The article went on to say that in addition to finding that officers had uttered "Disturbingly offensive remarks" during the sting operation, the investigation found that the police did not notify local businesses of their activities. Also, the police ought to have used surveillance, rather than deploying a police decoy. A report on the findings was prepared by City Manager David Ready, a Dec. 29 Desert Sun article said.
"Portions of the operation were not conducted according to the professional standards that are expected of our Police Department," the report stated. "As a result, appropriate disciplinary and corrective action has already been taken."
Last summer, Dominguez told the media that he had not made the comment. "If someone told you I was in that car when that slur was made, that’s a lie. And that is a total lie," the police chief declared to City News Service.
But on Dec. 28, Dominguez admitted in an email that he had made the remark, and offered an apology. "An inappropriate comment made by me did not display the utmost professional conduct expected from the chief of police and I sincerely apologize to the community at large," Dominguez wrote, according to a Valley News story from that same day. Added Dominguez, "I believe we have all learned much about perception and sensitivity," he said. "While we are not perfect, we make every attempt to understand and embrace the diversity of our community." Plans have been drawn up to provide diversity training for the city’s police officers and for other city employees.
"It is also my intent that the unprofessional conduct and comments made in the course of the operation will not happen again," Ready stated, according to a Dec. 28 report at the website for news station KESQ. "Ultimately as City Manager, I have to be sure that all operations of city government are appropriate, both legally and ethically, and serve the best interests of the community. In this case, I regret and am embarrassed by the extremely offensive comments that have been attributed to some members of our team and must apologize to the community."
In the wake of Dominguez’s apology, Ready said that the police chief would not face dismissal, the Desert Sun reported. "I’m convinced that his statement, although inappropriate... was not made in any discriminatory regard," said Ready.
A hearing for all of the men arrested in the sting operation has been scheduled for next month, the article said, going on to note that their lawyer, Roger Tansey has cited "discriminatory intent" behind the operation and moved that the charges be dropped. "Certainly to the extent that you have the police chief calling them names and officers down the line calling them names, I would assume a judge would agree that is discriminatory," Tansey told the press.
The questions surrounding the sex sting operation led to revisions in how the department would investigate similar complaints in the future, including no longer using decoys. But a number of issues, including how the operation was conceived and executed, fed into the overall debate.
A July 27 op-ed in the Desert Sun claimed that closed-door dealings between the police and other city officials determined in advance that gay men would be targeted and set out the charges that those arrested in the sting operation would face. The op-ed suggests that gay men were the primary all along, and says that the sting operation was launched in response to complaints in the Warm Sands district--which is known as a gay friendly part of town--about men cruising and having sex in public.
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