(WB) Former D.C. police lieutenant Brett Parson, who served as supervisor of the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit before retiring from the force in 2020, was arrested in Boca Raton, Florida, on Feb. 12, for allegedly having sex with a consenting 16-year-old boy in violation of Florida’s age of consent law, which is 18, according to an arrest affidavit filed in court.

The affidavit, which was prepared by a detective with the Coconut Creek (Fla.) Police Department, says the 16-year-old told police he and Parson met on the gay online dating app called Growlr and agreed to meet for a possible sexual encounter after exchanging “explicit” photos of each other.

An arrest warrant obtained by Coconut Creek police charges Parson with two counts of “Unlawful Sexual Activity with a Minor.” A separate incident and investigative report filed in court by Boca Raton police say officers with that department, in cooperation with Coconut Creek police, arrested Parson outside the Boca Raton residence of his parents where Parson was staying while visiting Florida from D.C.

The Washington Blade couldn’t immediately reach Parson for comment or determine the status of his case. Fox News reported it obtained court records showing Parson was being held at the Main Detention Center in Palm Beach County without bond as of Feb. 14, and it wasn’t clear if he had retained an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

The incident report filed by Boca Raton police says Parson was arrested on Feb. 12, several hours after Coconut Creek police say he and the 16-year-old allegedly had a sexual encounter in a car belonging to Parson’s father that Parson was driving and after he and the 16-year-old arranged to meet at a gas station in Coconut Creek near where the youth lives.

Criminal defense lawyers have expressed concern on behalf of clients in similar cases that an adult arrested for having consensual sex with a 16 or 17-year-old in a state where the age of consent is 18 would not have violated the law in states where the age of consent is 16. An online search of U.S. age of consent laws shows that at least 16 states and D.C. have established the age of consent for sexual acts at 16.

At the time of his retirement in 2020 after 26 years on the D.C. police force, Parson announced he was starting a consulting business to advise law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad on police-related issues. He also announced he would become a part-time volunteer D.C. police reserve officer as part of the department’s Reserve Officer Corps.

When asked to confirm media reports that Parson had been removed from his position as a reserve officer, D.C. police spokesperson Sean Hickman sent the Blade a short statement confirming those reports.

“We were made aware of the retired member’s arrest early Sunday morning,” the statement says. “MPD immediately terminated him from our Reserve Corps.”

According to the arrest affidavit filed by Coconut Creek Police Det. Sgt. John McKinney, officers on routine duty during the early morning hours of Feb. 12 observed a vehicle driven by the 16-year-old being followed by a vehicle driven by Parson. The affidavit says the officers approached both vehicles after they observed the vehicle driven by the 16-year-year-old, a Ford Focus, turned into a “restricted access facility owned by Comcast.”

It says the vehicle was driven by Parson, a red Buick convertible, “waited in the middle of the roadway,” prompting officers to approach Parson. The affidavit says Parson told the officers he was a police officer visiting his parents from D.C. and wasn’t familiar with the area and simply got lost. It says the officers allowed Parson to leave the area after he told them he did not know the person in the other vehicle.

“The officers then made contact with the driver of the gray Ford Focus, later identified as the 16-year-old minor hereinafter referred to as ‘RT,’” the affidavit says. “RT advised the officers that he was using Growlr, a dating application for gay men, to communicate with a male who identified himself as Brett,” the affidavit continues. “He stated that Brett told him he was looking for no strings attached casual sex, repeatedly asked him to meet, and sent each other explicit photographs.”

After initially meeting at a Shell gas station, at about 1 a.m. on Feb. 12, he and Parson arranged to drive to another location and park their cars in a secluded parking lot at the site of a daycare center in Coconut Creek, where RT got into the car Parson was driving, according to the affidavit. He told police the two talked for a while before they began kissing and a short time later performed oral sex on each other, the affidavit says RT recounted to police.

It says that the two attracted the attention of police when RT became nervous after someone walked past the parked car where he and Parson were engaging in intimate acts and the two decided to drive in their separate cars to find another location. That’s when police noticed that RT drove his vehicle into a restricted area and officers approached him to find out what was going on.

The affidavit does not say what prompted RT to disclose the intimate details of his alleged sexual acts with Parson when the officers would not otherwise have learned about that. The affidavit also doesn’t explain how it came about that RT’s parents arrived on the scene where police were interviewing their son as stated in the affidavit, although it’s likely that RT provided police with his parents' contact information.

“We first spoke with RT’s parents and explained what we knew up to this point and the process involved in a case of this nature,” the affidavit states. “After a detailed explanation of their options, RT’s parents stated they would like to press charges against Brett Parson and together with their son would consent to the necessary steps for evidence collection,” it says.

“We then spoke with RT,” the affidavit says in recounting the action by McKinney and other police investigators. “It should be noted that RT is a thin build male who clearly does not appear to be 18 years of age or older,” it says. The affidavit says RT then repeated his account of his interactions with Parson that he gave to the officers who stopped him in his car earlier that morning.

The affidavit says RT turned over his phone to police to allow them to read the text messages that he and Parson exchanged after they met on the Growlr dating site. It quotes RT texting Parson to say “so sexy” after Parson sent him a shirtless photo of himself. After RT sent Parson a clothed photo of himself, Parson replied, “You are so cute,” the affidavit says. It says the two subsequently exchanged “explicit” photos of each other.

The affidavit’s recounting of the text messages between Parson and RT makes it clear that RT willingly chose to meet Parson for a sexual encounter knowing that Parson was an older man. The affidavit says Parson is 53.

After interviewing RT and his parents, the affidavit says detectives escorted them to the Coconut Creek Police’s Sexual Assault Treatment Center “for a physical examination, evidence collection and sworn recorded statement.” It says RT was then shown a group of photos of others along with Parson’s photo and he “positively identified Brett” as the person with whom he engaged in sexual activity.

“Based on the facts above, probable cause exists for the issuance of an arrest warrant for Brett Parson because Parson, who is over 24 years of age, did engage in sexual activity, in this case oral sex with each other, involving the victim who is only 16 years of age,” the affidavit concludes.

By mentioning that Parson was older than 24 years of age the affidavit was referring to the Florida age of consent statute that allows a person between the age of 18 and 23 to legally engage in consensual sex with a person who is 16 or 17 years old.

The affidavit does not say — and it could not immediately be determined — whether RT self-identifies as gay, whether he was out to his parents as a gay person before the incident with Parson surfaced, or whether his parents are supportive of his sexual orientation. LGBTQ youth advocates have reported that many LGBTQ young people are confronted with hostile parents who disparage their sexual orientation or gender identity and sometimes prompt the young LGBTQ people to run away from their homes.

Gay former D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alex Padro, who says he has known Parson for many years in Padro’s role as a community activist in the city’s Shaw neighborhood, said Parson “earned my respect and that of many in our city and beyond” during Parson’s career as a police officer.

“Brett Parson served our city proudly for 26 years before his retirement in 2020,” Padro said. “Just like anyone else accused of a crime, Mr. Parson deserves to be treated as being innocent until proven guilty, and is entitled to mount a defense,” he said.

“MPD’s action in terminating a 26-year veteran of its ranks from the Reserve Corps without due process, without even hearing his side of the story is both un-American and unjust, depriving our citizens and MPD of his years of experience and demonstrating to those volunteer reservists that MPD does not have their back,” Padro said.  

D.C. gay activist Rick Rosendall said Parson’s arrest raises the issue of teenage sexuality that the prevailing political and social climate does not appear ready to address.

“A 16-year-old cruising on Growlr may be a poor choice for a sexual partner, but he is not a victim,” Rosendall said. “Our society continues to have the most absurdly counterproductive attitudes regarding teenage sexuality, as if it could be wished away,” he said. “The result of this denialism is teen pregnancies and STDs.”

“Brett Parson has done our community considerable service and I hold him in high regard,” added Rosendall.

Legal observers have said the age of consent laws are based on the long-held belief that a person under the age determined to be the legal “age of consent” is incapable of giving informed consent to sexual acts.

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