Detroit Settles ACLU Lawsuit Challenging Police Sting Operation Against Gay Men

July 23, 2002

DETROIT — The ACLU of Michigan announced today that a settlement has been reached with the City of Detroit in a constitutional challenge of the undercover sting operations in Rouge Park that targeted gay men or men perceived to be gay.

"This agreement will result in a much needed change in the Department’s practices that were based on unconstitutional ordinances,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Project.  “We’re obviously very pleased with the outcome.” 

The settlement stipulates that the “Annoying Persons” misdemeanor ordinance used to charge the men will be repealed; the plaintiffs’ arrest records, including their fingerprints, will be purged from the police department’s computer and records system; and the officers in the Sixth Precinct will undergo sensitivity training related to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues. The City has also agreed to pay $170,000 in damages and attorneys fees in the settlement of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of six men and the Triangle Foundation.  

“This is a good end to a terrible episode of anti-gay profiling by the Detroit Police,” said Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of Triangle Foundation.  “We can only hope that this settlement signals a real move toward understanding the challenges faced by gay people, and an end to preying on and profiting from our vulnerability.” 

In order to entrap men throughout the park, undercover officers would follow or approach men they perceived to be gay, make eye contact and encourage the men to respond in a sexual manner.   If a man merely responded with a look, gesture or conversation that the officers perceived to have sexual connotations, the man was arrested under the “Annoying Persons” or “Solicitation and Accosting” ordinance and his vehicle would be impounded.  He was then required to pay $900, plus towing and storage costs for the return of his vehicle.  The money was not refunded, even if the court dismissed charges under these ordinances. 

None of these arrests, under these ordinances and through the Rouge Park undercover decoy operation involved public sexual activity or prostitution. The undercover operation was part of the “morality units” operations conducted city-wide by all precincts to eliminate public sexual activity and prostitution.  

There is a history to these types of operations where the police have used undercover operations to target and arrest gay men.  In 1997, the ACLU of Maryland filed a similar lawsuit against police for sting operations in parks Baltimore-area.  The ACLU of Northern California challenged ordinances that would have allowed police to seize, claim and sell the vehicles driven by people accused -- even if they are later found innocent.  

Deborah A. LaBelle, ACLU Cooperating Attorney, was counsel on this case along with Jay Kaplan, Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director and Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. 

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