Police in Georgia have been accused of “cataclysmic failure” after a sex sting operation on Grindr led to the arrest of nine men.
As reported by Atlanta-based LGBTQ magazine Project Q, the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office conducted a three-day operation targeting men on dating apps between March 2 and March 4.
Nine men aged between 23 and 50 were arrested and charged with a mixture of misdemeanors and felonies, including pandering, possession of marijuana, and criminal attempt to distribute methamphetamine.
However, questions have been raised about the nature of the operation, particularly after the names, mugshots, and even employers of some of the men were published by a local media outlet.
The veracity of the charges has also been challenged in at least one case, according to Project Q, with one of the men refuting allegations that he offered drugs to an undercover officer in exchange for sex.
Screenshots of their Grindr conversation provided to Project Q reportedly show Sgt. W. Dereck Johnson, under the name “Charlie[looking for]420,” initiating the conversation and offering to host at a Quality Inn and Suites in Dawsonville.
When the man, who asked Project Q for anonymity, said that he had marijuana, Johnson asked, “U share?”
When the man said he would share, Johnson offered to supply papers and said, “I want to get high and fuck.” The man responded, “Nothing wrong with that.”
Project Q said that the man “never offered to exchange the marijuana for sex, according to the Grindr chat.”
However, when seeking a warrant, Johnson told a local judge that the man “did solicit…to perform an act of prostitution in exchange for marijuana.” The man was charged with misdemeanor pandering, possession of marijuana under one ounce, and criminal attempt.
Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta called the sting operation a “cataclysmic failure,” and said the charge of pandering against the man who spoke to Project Q was without merit.
“The one thing that you should have before you label something prostitution is a very clear situation where the offer of the item or money is an indispensable part of the transaction…. That’s not here at all,” Greg Nevins, senior counsel with Lambda Legal, told Project Q.
He noted the similarity with police stings conducted in public parks, and said law enforcement was “on Grindr looking for a problem,” adding, “It does strike you as wow, these are the priorities of a different era that just missed out on the last 20 years.”
“What’s going on in Dawson County is against the grain,” Nevins said. “Where does the protect and serve baseline actually come into my this? Where is any appreciation for not over incarcerating people who aren’t doing anything harmful and looking out for situations where real harm is going on? It’s a cataclysmic failure.”
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