A new class-action lawsuit alleges that New York Port Authority police have been targeting men suspected to be gay or gender non-conforming and arresting them on false charges of public masturbation and indecent exposure. And, what’s more, they’ve been doing it for years, reports the New York Post.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York earlier this week by the Legal Aid Society, a nonprofit legal organization serving low-income New Yorkers, and law firm Winston & Strawn LLP, which is serving as a pro bono partner in the case.
According to plaintiff attorney Ross Kramer, cops spy on men who seem “gay or non-gender conforming” through the slats in the privacy dividers in the men’s bathroom, and then lie and say the men are touching themselves. Kramer also alleges in the lawsuit that the reason Port Authority police have been doing that is to increase the numbers of “quality of life” arrests they make.
“It’s an absolutely unacceptable use of police power,” Kramer told the Post. “They go into public restrooms and have plainclothes officers stare at people, and then accuse men who they believe to be gay of engaging in lewd behavior. It pads their arrest stats by preying on a vulnerable group of people.”
One man who was arrested in such a sting says he even heard other officers congratulate the officer who arrested him, calling him “the gay whisperer” because of the large amount of suspected gay men he had taken into custody.
The lawsuit also alleges that police engage in profiling so as to target men who seem effeminate based on the way they comport themselves, or based on clothing or jewelry they may consider to be “non-masculine.”
Kramer says the practice goes back to at least 2004, when Port Authority police arrested a man for public masturbation. He was later found not guilty and awarded “substantial damages,” but police never stopped engaging in the practice. As a result, Kramer is asking for a court to issue an injunction that would stop the police from trying to entrap men they perceive to be gay.
Port Authority police spokesman Joe Pentangelo declined to comment, saying the agency doesn’t talk about pending cases.