San Jose police may face class-action lawsuit over undercover sex sting

- The City of San Jose and its police department are bracing for a class-action lawsuit.
At issue, the department's now defunct practice of enforcing pubic lewdness laws, that critics say target gay men.

Clay Morganparks said he found himself on the wrong side of the law back in January of 2015. He said he went to Columbus Park in Downtown San Jose to meet with friends, but was approached by an undercover San Jose police officer.

"He came to me and asked if me if I wanted to have fun. I go, yeah not here. I said we could meet somewhere else, and I started to walk away and then they ran up and handcuffed me," said Morganparks, standing near the site of his arrest in the park.

He was arrested for violating the city's ordinance against lewd behavior. San Jose police department officials say a flood of public complaints about men soliciting and performing sex acts here prompted an undercover sting operation. At least five men were arrested after accepting an invitation for sexual contact, but a superior court judge eventually dismissed these five cases.

"These are false arrests that are doubly damned," said civil rights attorney Bruce Nickerson.

He successfully argued chance encounters inside a bathroom stall with a door, did not constitute lewd public behavior. Additionally, Nickerson contends the stings were biased since straight men and women were not targeted.

"If it's two men, they will not only go after it, but they'll pretend to be part of the game and enter into the cruising game," said Nickerson.

Chief Eddie Garcia said the SJPD stopped using these types of undercover stings two years ago.

"The LGBTQ community often gets forgotten in efforts to increase trust with the police. We are doing more to make sure that is not the case in San Jose," Garcia said in a statement to KTVU. 

Gabrielle Antolovich is board president of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center. She said the department has changed, and created an LGBTQ committee to aid in discussions about policing methods.

"There's not gonna be targeting of gay men or any other part of our community, the way the past was done," said Antolovich. 

The policy change helps going forward, but Morganparks hopes the class action suit will clear cases beyond these five, as well as those living with a conviction.

"There's always people getting set up and having stuff against them, that they didn't do," said Morganparks.

Plaintiffs attorney Nickerson says he'll officially service the city with the class-action lawsuit paperwork in the next two weeks. The city attorney did not return repeated phone calls for comment on this lawsuit.

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