ACLU makes statement on Baton Rouge park arrests story

Published: Jul. 29, 2013 at 3:47 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement Monday related to the arrests of men in Baton Rouge parks on a law ruled unconstitutional.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office is taking heat after national criticism from the gay community sparked over an article in the Baton Rouge newspaper, The Advocate.

The article documents 12 arrests made by deputies at Baton Rouge Park and Recreational Facilities. One arrest in particular, which happened at Manchac Park, has a man charged with an anti-sodomy law that was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court years ago.

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. Now, the ACLU is also commenting.

The ACLU released the following statement:

The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Department has been persecuting and arresting men in public parks for doing nothing more than what the law permits them to do: have conversations setting up private meetings, in private places outside the park. These conversations are fully protected by the First Amendment. To the extent that they might involve issues of private sexual conduct, that conduct itself is fully protected under Lawrence v. Texas, which in 2003 struck down laws banning consensual sex acts among adults.

The Louisiana statute that remains on the books, banning "crimes against nature," has been unenforceable against consenting adults for a decade.  It is the job of law enforcement to know what is valid law and what is not.  The people of Baton Rouge are entitled to a law enforcement system that actually enforces the law. That means protecting people whose conduct is legal - such as adults engaging in conversation about anything they choose in public places.  The men who have been arrested should have had the protection, not the persecution, of their law enforcement officials, and Sheriff Sid Gautreaux must educate his staff on the proper role of law enforcement in a free society.

It is time for these wrongful arrests, and the persecution of these individuals, to stop.

The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office issued the following statement to the CCA Sunday:

"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 its 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."

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