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Rudy Serra of Michigan, a lawyer, former judge, and expert involving entrapment of gay men in Michigan, was asked to analyze Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s statement to SFGN regarding their 5-year undercover operation targeting gay men in public parks. Below is the Sheriff’s response:
“First of all, SEX in public parks, bathrooms, nature trails, etc. is ILLEGAL per Florida State Statue - 800.03 -- Exposure of Sexual Organs:
It is unlawful to expose or exhibit one’s sexual organs in public or on the private premises of another, or so near thereto as to be seen from such private premises, in a vulgar or indecent manner, or to be naked in public except in any place provided or set apart for that purpose. Violation of this section is a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083. A mother’s breastfeeding of her baby does not under any circumstance violate this section.
In 2005, PBC Parks & Recreation contacted PBSO requesting assistance with illegal sexual activity occurring in PBC park bathrooms and nature trails. PBSO began to enforce ALL illegal sexual activity in public bathrooms, which were mainly located next to playground areas. This enforcement resulted in numerous arrests over the last few years. The individuals arrested were issued a “notice to appear” in court for the charge of Exposure of Sexual Organs.
PBSO responds to all requests to stop illegal activity, regardless of its location, that is what the public expects from our agency.”
Serra especially took issue with the mentioning of playgrounds in the statement.
“The statement by the Sheriff’s Department includes an indication of the very sort of anti-gay hysteria that often infuses these operations,” he said. “Even in the shortest of statements they are careful to mention ‘playgrounds.’ In other words, the sheriff believes that gay men are a threat to children. Their statement exploits the most obnoxious, obsolete, and offensive anti-gay stereotype available.”
He also criticized Bradshaw’s use of the statutes.
“Anti-gay police operations routinely cite statutes, while ignoring the constitution and the court opinions that should guide their enforcement of the statutes. The Sheriff’s statement gives only a superficial and improper analysis of the law,” he said. “The courts have defined words like “vulgar” and “indecent.” Legal authorities agree that statutes trying to regulate “indecent” conduct are interpreted using “obscenity” statutes. Obscenity involves more than nudity. There is no statute or court decision that makes it a crime for an adult to have a conversation in a public place with another adult about sex, even if that conversation includes an offer or request to have unpaid, consensual sex.”
Serra went on to explain what exactly can be defined as public sex.
“You can have “public sex” even if you are on private property. You also have an enforceable right to privacy in public places. Where two people are on property that belongs to the public, but they take reasonable measures to assure that no one will see them or detect them – they can have a right to privacy. The fact that you use a “public” bathroom does not give the government the right to spy on you with a warrant. The fact that you use a public phone does not give the police a right to listen to the conversation,” he said. “While ‘public sex’ may be illegal, the fact that an act occurs on property that it owned by the government does not make that act per se ‘public.’ Think about married campers inside their sleeping bag in a tent pitched in a public campground. According to your Sheriff, Mr. and Mrs. Joe America commit a crime when they have sex. Such a position is unreasonable.”
Serra concludes with:
“In other cases where “the Parks and Recreation Department” contacts the police, they point to used condoms and discarded pornography as proof of illegal sex. It’s actually proof of littering,” he said. “When the sheriff says he “began to enforce ALL illegal sexual activity” I’m sure that’s not exactly what he means to say – but again it suggests that the police may use language with less precision than the law.”
Serra authored a report in 2000 called “‘Bag a Fag’ Operations in Michigan: Police Misconduct, Entrapment and Crimes Against Gay Men.” He currently has two cases involving entrapment pending in federal court.