Seven of the 12 men arrested in July on public lewdness related charges in a gay male cruising area near Rehoboth Beach have accepted an offer by prosecutors to enter a program for first time offenders that’s expected to lead to the dismissal of the charges against them.
According to information released by the Delaware Department of Justice, at the request of state prosecutors, the seven men were sentenced in court to “probation before judgment” after agreeing to plead guilty and pay a fine.
Under this arrangement, which is sometimes referred to as a diversion program, a judge defers further action in the case until the period of probation is completed.
If the defendant successfully completes probation, the charge is dismissed and the criminal record can usually be expunged, said Delaware attorney John Brady, who represented two of the men who accepted the “probation before judgment” offer.
“My clients are relieved to get this matter resolved in a timely manner,” Brady said.
One or more undercover park rangers arrested the 12 men in July at the Wolfe Neck parking area near the Junction & Breakwater Trail, a six-mile long trail along the southwestern side of Cape Henlopen State Park. The trail connects the towns of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach.
In a statement released on July 28, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said the men were charged with various misdemeanor violations, including offensive touching, criminal solicitation, lewdness, indecent exposure and loitering to engage in or solicit sex.
The age of the men arrested in the sting operation ranges from 49 to 82, with most in their 60s and 70s.
Wayne Kline, chief of police for the parks and natural resources agency, said the arrests by undercover rangers came in response to a “serious and longstanding problem with lewd and indecent public behavior” at the Wolfe Neck area.
“Such behavior will not be tolerated in a public area within a Delaware State Park,” he said in a statement.
Information provided to the Washington Blade by Delaware Department of Justice spokesperson Carl Kanefsky shows that of the remaining five men arrested in the undercover operation, three were scheduled to stand trial in October or November and one was scheduled for arraignment on Aug. 31.
The fifth was scheduled for arraignment and trial on Tuesday. The outcome of that case couldn’t immediately be determined.
Steve Elkins, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, an LGBT community center and advocacy organization, said that at his request Kline agreed not to publicly release the names of the arrested men at the time the parks department announced the arrests had been made. But much to his dismay, Elkins said, Kline told him a short time later that his department had to release the men’s names when formal requests were made by several news media outlets.
He said Kline noted that all arrest records are part of the public record under Delaware law.
Elkins said he doesn’t condone illegal acts in public parks but believes releasing the names of men arrested on public sex related charges could ruin their lives under certain circumstances.
“I feel that if you are convicted, that’s when your name can be released,” he said, noting that the men had yet to have their day in court at the time the names were published in some media outlets. The Blade did not report the names.