BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The EBR Sheriff's Office is taking some heat after national criticism from the gay community sparked over an article in a Baton Rouge local newspaper, The Advocate.
The article documents 12 arrests made by the EBRSO Deputies at Baton Rouge Park and Recreational Facilities. One arrest, in particular, at Manchac Park has a man charged with an anti-sodomy law that was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court years ago.
According to court records obtained by the advocate, the arrests were made after undercover communication was initiated at various parks in the parish. Since the article was posted, the EBRSO has received a backlash of negative reactions from civil rights groups including the Capital City Alliance, a civil advocacy group.
Matthew Patterson, who is a board member of the CCA, says that while his group is still learning about the Sheriff's Office stakeouts, his initial reaction was disappointment.
"At the end of the day people were getting arrested for what amounted to having a conversation about doing something that is not against the law." Patterson commented, "And I just really couldn't fathom that is something you could get arrested for."
Officials from the EBRSO would not talk to 9News on camera, but the Office did send a statement to the CCA this afternoon.
The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office issued the following statement:
"We want to reiterate our intent in these cases. It was NEVER to target a certain segment of our population. It was only in response to parents, park officials and members of the public concerned that our parks were not safe. When we receive reports of public masturbation, sex and other lewd activity in a park where children are playing, we MUST take these concerns seriously. Our intent was honorable, our approach, however, is something we must evaluate and change. The Sheriff's Office is not concerned with what consenting adults do in private residences. We are concerned with what is going on in public, especially a public place frequented by children. In light of new information, we feel that we need to work with our deputies to provide them with better resources and training to deal with these issues in more appropriate ways. It is very important to us that the public understands our intent and agenda was safety and never prejudiced toward any group."
The Capital City Alliance board responded to the EBRSO statement with a statement of their own:
"We thank the Sheriff for his willingness to work on the problem. He has agreed to meet with CCA and to release a statement that the "crimes against nature" law will not be enforced. It is CCA and Equality Louisiana's intention to discuss the appointment of an LGBT liaison to the Sheriff's Office and the Sheriff's intentions to work with the legislature to remove this unconstitutional law from the books."
Bruce Parker of Capital City Alliance and Equality Louisiana stated, "We know that the damage that has been done to the lives of the people that have been unfairly targeted using this unconstitutional law can't be undone, but we are optimistic that the Sheriff has clearly stated that they will no longer be enforcing this law until the courts or the legislature removes it."
Parker also adds, "Equality Louisiana will do everything we can to support the work of our coalition member, Capital City Alliance, as they collaborate with the Sheriff to remove the possibility of this happening in the future."