Gay men in Michigan are routinely made the targets of illegal undercover operations that end in their being arrested merely for seeking consensual sex, claims a report released last week issued by the Detroit-based Triangle Foundation.
“A clear, ongoing pattern of activity is evident,” says Rudy Serra, a Detroit attorney who wrote the report for the gay and lesbian rights organization. “Law enforcement agencies throughout the state determine where gay men go to find competent, consenting, noncommercial, private adult sex partners. Even if no one has complained, they then send in undercover officers.”
Police have a name for such stings, says Serra, a member of Detroit’s Human Rights Commission and the Triangle Foundation board. “They call them ‘bag-a-fag’ operations.”
Serra, who says he’s represented hundreds of police abuse victims during his 15 years as an attorney, says he saw a marked increase in such cases last year.
“There seemed to be a dramatic escalation of police misconduct in 1998,” claims Serra. The Detroit Police Department proved to be a particularly troublesome, he adds.
In January, Serra submitted a report to Detroit Police Chief Benny Napoleon detailing numerous incidents of alleged misconduct. According to Serra, Napoleon responded in a Jan. 15 letter that a “thorough investigation” had been conducted and that there was no “credible evidence” of misconduct.
The problem, says Serra, is that the investigation did not include contacting any of the citizens who complained about misconduct.
As a result, Serra forwarded the information to the United States Department of Justice and asked it to investigate.
“Napoleon’s dismissive and casual disposition about human rights violations confirms that federal intervention is needed,” says Serra.
Napoleon’s office did not respond to a written request for comment by press time.
But it is not just the Detroit Police Department that poses a problem.
A Michigan State Police report from its Flint post details, which was obtained by Serra, shows what he calls an admission that gay men are arrested for “seeking private, consensual, unpaid sex acts.”
Describing a sting conducted at a local highway rest area, the State Police report using a “decoy” to follow a suspect into a nearby wooded area, engage the man in conversation, and wait until “the male suspect asked for a sexual favor and was then arrested for gross indecency.”
“This report ... is irrefutable written proof of an illegal, homophobic plot to unfairly and unconstitutionally persecute and stigmatize gay men,” asserts Serra. “The report proves that if a gay man indicates a sexual interest to a state trooper, he will be charged with a 15-year felony.”
Serra adds that frequently gay men targeted in such stings are cited for misdemeanor violations, and that it is not uncommon for them to plead guilty to avoid the embarrassment and expense of a trial. But three such convictions can result in their being labeled a sex offender.
“We’re being attacked by our own government, says Serra. “People are doing things I, as an attorney with 15 years experience, would do feeling confident that no crime is being committed, and they are being arrested anyway.”