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Police chief defends release of restroom sex mug shots

April 11, 2012 |  6:30 am

Map shows approximate location of an undercover sex sting at a public restroom. Click for more information on the area.

Manhattan Beach's police chief is defending the department's decision to release the names and photos of 18 men arrested in an undercover sex sting at a public restroom.

Manhattan Beach Police Chief Eve Irvine said Tuesday that the release of suspects' photos was standard operating procedure. "This is consistent with our practice," Irvine said. "It was never our intention to humiliate anyone, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual."

Leaders of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center contended that last week's release of the mug shots, names and birthdates of the men could lead to public humiliation and more severe consequences. Many local media published the information.

The social services agency said one of those arrested had reported to them that a fellow suspect attempted suicide after the names were made public. A center official said Monday that he had no additional details about the suicide report.

The case and the coverage it has received have set off spirited discussion on several news sites. Some argued that the arrests and publicity will be useful in dissuading others who might want to procure sex in a public place. Others said the attention given to the suspects, who have not been charged, echoed the public shaming visited on gays in decades past.

Jim Key, chief spokesman for the Gay & Lesbian Center, said the Manhattan Beach Police Department could have worked with the center to try to stop men from meeting in the restroom, located beside the beach at the foot of Marine Avenue. Key said the Los Angeles Police Department took the public education approach, rather than mass arrests, to cut down on a public sex problem at Griffith Park.

Irvine said she would meet with representatives of the Gay & Lesbian Center later this week and is open to working with the organization if suspicions arise in the future that public facilities have been turned into meeting places for sex. "Anything we can do to prevent this kind of activity from occurring, fine, that works for us," Irvine said.

Darrel Cummings, the center's chief of staff, said news organizations should also use more discretion before identifying suspects in what he called a victimless crime.

"Naturally we don't condone illegal activity of any kind," Cummings said in a statement, "but these men haven't been proven guilty, and historically, charges such as those leveled against them have involved police entrapment. Publishing their photos serves no purpose other than to humiliate and destroy their lives."

The activist organization suggested that Manhattan Beach may have publicized the arrests because of the suspects' sexual orientation. City Atty. Roxanne Diaz joined the police chief in denying that assertion.

Although such photos may be released in other cities as a deterrent, Irvine said that was not the motivation in Manhattan Beach. She said the department began regularly releasing photos in criminal cases some time ago, because they were routinely requested by the media and others.

"To cut down on the red tape and bureaucracy, we sent them out regularly. We were very consistent," said Irvine, who added that the practice began before she became chief 10 months ago.

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-- James Rainey

Map: Approximate location of an undercover sex sting at a public restroom. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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