Florida prosecutors have dropped charges against former Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Brett Parson, who had faced two counts of unlawful sexual activity with minor. The charges could have potentially landed Parson at least seven years in prison, and potentially as much as 15 years for each charge.
According to a memo from the Broward County State Attorney’s Office explaining its decision, the teen’s parents wanted to pursue charges against Parson but did not want to subject their son to be questioned on the stand and were reticent to allow prosecutors to speak with him to help determine the facts of the case.
Assistant State Attorney Danielle Lennox, of the office’s sexual battery and child abuse unit, wrote in the memo that a victim advocate from the office had begun reaching out to the family after the charges against Parson were filed.
In a May 2022 phone conference with the victim’s parents, Lennox explained what the process of pursuing prosecution would entail, but they were reticent to have their son speak with her.
Lennox agreed to give them time to think and scheduled a follow-up meeting with the parents to arrange an in-person interview with the teen, but was unable to reach the family.
In February 2023, the victim advocate in the case tried to reach out to the family.
The victim’s father ultimately replied in an email, reiterating that the parents did not want to force their son to testify against his will.
The father also indicated a desire to move forward with the charges against Parson, but also said he would prefer to “drop the case” if it required his son’s further involvement.
Lennox noted that even though ignorance of a minor’s age is not a defense under Florida law, Parson has maintained that he always believed the minor to be 19, or above the age of consent, since they began chatting on Growlr.
“Due to lack of victim cooperation, my conversations with the victim’s parents, and the potential scheduling of a deposition of the victim, the State believed it was in the best interest of the victim not to require him to come in for deposition and subsequent trial testimony, to respect his wishes and announce a nollo prosequi [declining to prosecute] in this case,” wrote Lennox in the memo.
Appearing in court on Monday morning, Lennox told Judge Tim Bailey, of the Seventeenth Circuit Court of Florida, that, based on the family’s wishes and the lack of cooperation from the victim, the state would not be pursuing the charges against Parson.
Bailey then declared the case to be over, meaning Parson will no longer face time in prison or be forced to register as a sex offender.
It is unclear what the decision not to pursue charges against Parson entails for his status as a retired law enforcement officer, or any future involvement with law enforcement.
Following his arrest, he was terminated from his position as an officer in the Metropolitan Police Department’s Reserve Corps and as an instructor for ABLE, a training program for police departments across the country, reports The Washington Post.
According to the memo from the state attorney’s office, the minor and Parson originally connected and spoke back and forth on Growlr for two to four days before agreeing to meet in person, exchanging cell numbers and texts as well.
Although Growlr requires users to be 18 years old to use the platform, the apps do not require documentation to verify a user’s age. As such, minors who identify as LGBTQ may sometimes obtain accounts. In this case, the teenager in question had created a profile in which he claimed to be 19.
Parson and the minor agreed to meet at a gas station in Coconut Creek, Florida, which was halfway between where the teen lived and Boca Raton, where Parson’s parents live. They then decided to go to an empty parking lot for more privacy before engaging in mutual oral sex. The victim later told police he felt uncomfortable, despite having previously consented, but never gave any indication to Parson of his discomfort, according to a memo from the assistant state attorney.
After being startled by a passerby, the teen and Parson agreed to relocate elsewhere, and drove to what he thought would be a secluded place, with Parson trailing him. They were spotted by police officers after pulling into a restricted access facility owned by Comcast.
Police approached Parson, who allegedly told officers he did not know the individual in the other car, identified himself as a police officer visiting from Washington, D.C., and claimed to have gotten lost while searching for the highway, according to charging documents.
They then approached the teen and began questioning him when he admitted that he was underage and recounted how he had met Parson on Growlr.
Parson was later arrested, arraigned, and pleaded not guilty to two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
Under Florida law, the age of consent is 18 years old. Engaging in sex with anyone under 18, even if the victim consents, is considered second-degree sexual battery. Defendants charged with such offenses may not use their lack of knowledge of a minor’s age as a defense — even in cases where a minor may have lied or deceived their sexual partner about their age.
Michael Dutko, Parson’s attorney, praised the state attorney’s office for declining to prosecute his client, specifically praising Lennox for choosing to dismiss the charges.
“The state attorney’s office demonstrated some intellectual courage in the way they looked at this case and decided not to prosecute it. They did the right thing, and the right thing for good reasons,” Dutko told Metro Weekly in an interview following the dismissal of charges. “In this business that sort of intellectual courage is not common.”
Dutko said his client is pleased with the outcome.
“This has been a very stressful ordeal and he’s glad to have it behind him,” Dutko said. “He’s been candid and responsible from the outset. And eventually, the information we gave to the state attorney’s office corroborated his version of events and the nollo prosequi was the correct determination here.
“Mr. Parson went on an adult website looking for adult companionship, never expecting to encounter someone under 18,” Dutko continued. “He wasn’t some predator out there looking for children.”
Dutko said that Parson may be eligible to file a petition seeking to have the charges expunged from his criminal record, but said that such issues will be addressed at a later time.
Parson, who retired from MPD in early 2020 after serving 26 years on the force, previously served as head of the former Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, then headquartered in the city’s historic Dupont Circle “gayborhood,” from 2001 to 2007.
After returning to patrol for 10 months, he was tapped by former MPD Chief Cathy Lanier to head the reorganized Special Liaison Unit, which oversees the liaison units for the Asian, Latino, deaf and hard-of-hearing, and LGBTQ communities, for the purposes of developing a plan to expand the liaison program and provide culturally sensitive training for officers on how to deal with marginalized or minority communities in all seven of the city’s police departments.
He left the unit again in 2009, and returned to patrol for several years, before returning once more in 2017 to serve as acting supervisor for the Special Liaison Unit.
A federal appeals court declined to overturn an order blocking Florida from attempting to enforce a law aimed at banning drag performances in public.
Last week, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court judge's preliminary injunction stopping the law from being enforced until a trial is held to determine whether the law is unconstitutional, as the plaintiffs challenging the law claim, reports The Associated Press.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell, of the Middle District of Florida, had issued the preliminary injunction blocking the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation -- which, under Gov. Ron DeSantis's administration, has aggressively sought to crack down on drag performances by threatening businesses that host them with the loss of their business or liquor licenses -- from enforcing the law.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn a lower court judge's order blocking the state of Florida from attempting to enforce its ban on "adult live performances," which many critics say is a veiled attempt to impose a blanket ban on drag shows by wrongly classifying them as inherently "sexual."
In a 6-3 vote, the high court declined to take up an emergency request for a stay of the U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Presnell's injunction, which not only blocked the state from enforcing the ban against "family-friendly" drag shows at Hamburger Mary's in Orlando, but against drag performances throughout the state.
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