At best it’s being described as a Hollywood Police Department with its priorities out of whack. At worst, as described by a Miami attorney, it was a “witch hunt targeting gay men,” coupled with overblown media coverage that has cost at least one man his job.
According to a police report, members of the street crimes unit went to the Pleasure Emporium, located at 1321 S. 30th Avenue, at about 6 p.m. on July 25. The officers said they were there to investigate a complaint from an anonymous tip – that patrons were seen performing sex acts at the business.
The Pleasure Emporium has a retail section with items like lingerie, lotions, sex toys and DVDs. It also operates two small theater areas in the back of the store as well as private rooms designed for the viewing of X-rated videos.
Inside the Pleasure Emporium.
The police report said officers waited in unmarked patrol cars outside the business while two undercover detectives went inside and paid $25 each for a private viewing room.
At some point after entering the back area, the undercover detectives reported they saw two men performing sex acts both alone and on each other. Those two men along with another 11 were charged with exposure of sexual organs and/or lascivious acts, according to police.
The 13 men range in age from 33 to 70 years old. Court records show bond was set at $100 for each case. Hollywood police said they arrested six people on similar charges at the Pleasure Emporium in February.
“It’s clearly a witch hunt targeting gay men,” said Abbie B. Cuellar, a partner at Miami’s Amador & Cuellar law firm. “They went in to smear, humiliate and out them.”
Abbie B. Cuellar.
Cuellar is representing one of the men who she said has been fired from his job in the medical field because of the arrest and subsequent publicity. She said another man has been suspended from his job and another has faced harassment from neighbors in his condominium complex who have demanded he move out, calling him a “pedophile, pervert and faggot.”
Cuellar did note that it’s possible not all the men arrested July 25 identify as gay, but she thinks most of them do. The manager of the Pleasure Emporium told her he thinks about 20 percent of his customers are straight men.
The Pleasure Emporium is not located near a residential neighborhood. It abuts I-95 on one side and train tracks on the other. The surrounding businesses are largely warehouses.
Part of what baffles Cuellar and others about these arrests is that the men were in an area of the business that is very nonpublic.
She said all of the men charged were in private locked rooms or in private areas. She said there have been no claims of drug use, prostitution or minors being present.
“So how are they being charged with exposure of sexual organs in public?” Cuellar said.
Further, Cuellar said the behavior of the undercover police is questionable.
“They encouraged the individuals to come into one of the private rooms [and] encouraged them to touch themselves and engage in consensual touching with each other,” she said. “They proceeded to then watch them until the men completed whatever they were doing, and then allowed them to leave the room and arrested them outside in the hall. They arrested everyone they found in the back area.”
Cuellar said that as a former prosecutor, she has never heard of police officers engaged in watching “alleged criminal behavior” to that extent.
“If, in fact, what these men were doing was illegal, then the mere exposure would have been sufficient to arrest them under the police department’s theory that this behavior was a crime,” Cuellar said. “This is also a classic case of entrapment.”
Cuellar, like others who have heard about the arrests and are commenting on social media, wonder why the Hollywood Police Department would focus resources and time to pursue adults engaged in consensual behavior at a business of this type.
Miranda Grossman, the Hollywood Police Department's public information manager told SFGN the police investigate “any sort of complaints or tips that they get, from narcotics to traffic.”
“They received a tip and it’s a retail establishment, a business open to the public, a public venue,” Grossman said. “These types of investigations occur, not just at the Pleasure Emporium, but at places like massage parlors. There were men in there who were self-pleasuring and that’s a misdemeanor in public,” she said.
SFGN attempted to contact Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy for his take on the arrests. Both Raelin Storey, the director of the communications department for Levy, and Joanne Hussey, spokesperson for the city of Hollywood, said Levy was on vacation with his family and that he was “touring around and was out of cell phone range.”
‘Crime of the century’
Cuellar said her client has not only lost his job, but was effectively outed as gay. She said it is precisely the reason he previously fled the oppressive anti-gay regime in Cuba.
“He has now lost his job, his privacy and any semblance of safety from persecution that he felt,” she said. “And the media has made this the crime of the century, and these are consenting adults.”
The Miami Herald, WPLG Local 10 news and CBS-4 WFOR all published the men’s names and mugshots. Other media outlets, like the Sun Sentinel, reported on the story without publishing names and images. The Miami Herald later took down the names and mugshots, but the story remained on several sites and outlets in the regurgitated loop that is most often seen with local TV news.
“The media went out of their way to put the spotlight on this – amplified 20 times with pictures and names published,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar said her motivation is to expose what she sees as an anti-gay bias at the Hollywood Police Department. She is encouraging her client and the other men to reject any plea deals.
“The police cannot win on these charges – they know it – but they are banking on these men taking a plea because of the shame and the humiliation they have endured,” she said. “I hope that not one of these men takes a plea and exposes these bogus charges and the true reason the Hollywood police undertook this sting with all the real serious crimes Hollywood is dealing with. I can’t really believe this is happening in 2018. If it happens to gay men, it can happen to anyone.”