Thursday, February 23, 2012

Internet stings still catch a lot of people; are gay men "targeted"?


The Washington Blade has an important story today by Lou Chibbaro about the reported entrapment of gay men in chat rooms by police posing as underage persons.  The problem is that the police have been using sites not normally associated with minors’ use, as in the story (website url) here. And “customers” may have been looking more for experiences with drugs and with underage persons.

The Blade reports a significant number of arrests by DC Police.  There have been a few in suburban jurisdictions, such as Arlington (including one of a police officer a couple years ago).   A few teachers have been caught in stings.  I have not heard of any among people I know.  But someone I know was arrested in Dallas and convicted in 2007, and I am not clear as to the details as to what really happened. 

In 2004-2005, NBC Dateline created a sensation its “To Catch a Predator” series with Chris Hansen and a vigilante group called “Perverted Justice”, or Peej.  And one of the most disturbing cases of all involved Rabbi David Kaye, who was caught in a sting in August 2005.  Virginia did not prosecute him, but after nine months of FBI work, federal charges were brought against him by grand jury indictment, in late May 2006.  The federal prosecution surprised local media (as in this smaller newspaper story). After he turned himself in, he never got bail, and was convicted in September 2006 and cried at his sentencing (in the Alexandria federal court house) in December 2006, when he was sentenced to 78 months in prison.  Peej’s account, which has a rather lurid and disturbing chat log, is here. The judge’s opinion included a justification of the use of stings in rather narrow circumstances.  (See review of Chris Hansen’s book, March 17, 2007, Book Review blog). Kaye should get out in May, 2012.

About 75% of those arrested in the Dateline stings were heterosexual.  After the Virginia cases, most people were arrested after leaving the target house and encountering Chris Hansen (in Florida, Ohio, Georgia, California, New Jersey, and Texas, where one man, an assistant prosecutor, committed suicide). 

In late 2004, former meteorologist Bill Kamal, known to be openly gay, was arrested and convicted after a sting in Florida, and sentenced on federal charges.  The best account of his ordeal is here. He was released to a halfway house in 2008 (sentence completed in 2009). He used to work as a TV meteorologist in Washington DC in the 90s. Note the emotional tenor of the Internet coverage. 

Generally, in these kinds of cases, arrests occur when people show up for a meeting with someone (or often at a home) who turns out to be undercover.  But it is possible to prosecute someone just on the basis of the chat log alone, and this has happened in Maryland, as with a TSA employee chatting with undercover police officers in Florida. 

Should police be conducting these undercover stings when we need more officers on the streets, given DC's recent crime spree?

Anderson Cooper will cover this problem on his daytime show on Feb. 23 on ABC affiliates (link).  

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