Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Federal lawsuit targets Johnson City Police profiling of gay men

Kenneth Giles of Bristol, Virginia filed a federal lawsuit yesterday against the Johnson City Police Department alleging discrimination in a widely-publicized sex-sting in municipal parks in the fall of last year. Johnson City Police allegedly engaged in profiling gay or bisexual men and used local media to preferentially publicize the arrests of gay or bisexual men over heterosexual offenders. Salient points from the news report include:

“The Johnson City Police Department did extraordinary measures to publicize their arrests in a way they didn’t do for other crimes,” said Greg Nevins, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney, Lambda Legal.

He alleges Johnson City Police, with the authorization of Police Chief John Lowry, sent out a press release of the arrests, complete with photographs of all arrested, their names, addresses, and their charges. “If they publicized everybody’s arrest in the same way then we wouldn’t be filing this lawsuit,” said Nevins.

Police Chief John Lowry says he has yet to be notified of the lawsuit so he won’t comment on it. He did say there have been other arrests in this park of both homosexual and heterosexual sex.

“There was a whole range of offenses that were similar or much more serious but for none of them did they publish the photos of the arrestees,” said Nevins. He points to an arrest of two men and four women on prostitution related charges.

Nevins says police used the media to add additional punishment. “The punishment that the law of the State of Tennessee meets for these things isn’t sufficient, so they wanted to make sure they suffered separate additional punishment,” said Nevins.

The Triangle Foundation and the ACLU successfully challenged this kind of "bag-a-fag" operation with lawsuits in Michigan.

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