A gay attorney and civic activist running for a seat on the Baltimore City Council says he’s being targeted by fliers mailed to residents of his district that mischaracterize the circumstances surrounding his 2009 arrest in D.C. on a misdemeanor charge of voyeurism.
Kelly Cross, 38, told the Washington Blade he believes the anonymous fliers, which falsely describe him as a “convicted sex offender,” are homophobic and aimed at discrediting his campaign to become Baltimore’s first out gay member of the City Council.
Cross is one of seven candidates competing in the city’s April 26 Democratic primary for the 12th District Council seat being vacated by longtime incumbent Carl Stokes, who is running for mayor.
D.C. Superior Court records show that in September 2009 Cross pled guilty as part of a plea bargain agreement with prosecutors to a misdemeanor charge of voyeurism. The plea came after he admitted he clandestinely recorded video of a partially nude man changing his clothes in the locker room of the Washington Sports Club gym at 738 7th St., N.W.
Cross has said the man in question posted an ad on Craigslist expressing interest in meeting another man for a sexual encounter at the gym on Aug. 19, 2009, the day he recorded the man. Cross and others familiar with the gym say it was notorious at the time as a cruising place for gay men.
But prosecutors said the man — himself an attorney, former Boston police officer and former prosecutor with the D.C. Office of the Attorney General — claimed he didn’t know Cross and was unaware that he was being recorded as he disrobed in the locker room.
Police charging documents also say that the man accused Cross of entering a bathroom stall at the gym next to the stall the man was in and placing a small toiletry bag on the floor between the two stalls. Seconds later, the man told police, he noticed a camera lens inside a hole cut out of the side of the small bag that was pointed up at him, leading him to believe Cross was attempting to photograph him or record video of him while undressed in the stall.
According to the charging documents, the man grabbed the bag out of Cross’s hand, allegedly prompting Cross to leave his own stall, force open the door to the stall where the man was sitting, and start a struggle to retrieve the bag and camera from the man.
“As a result of the suspect grabbing the complainant, the complainant suffered a bruised arm and forearm,” a police arrest affidavit says. Police and prosecutors cited the man’s bruised arm as grounds for also charging Cross with simple assault. That charge was later dropped as part of the plea bargain agreement.
Cross denies he ever entered the man’s stall. He calls the assertion that he struggled to retrieve the bag “a complete lie,” and says he placed the bag near the man between the two stalls because the man appeared to be masturbating inside the stall and appeared to be interested in a possible sexual encounter with him.
The man, who currently practices law in Springfield, Mass., did not respond to a call from the Blade seeking comment.
At the time of his guilty plea, Cross’s attorney filed a pre-sentencing memorandum asserting that Cross realized he mistakenly thought the man was consenting to a flirtation between the two and that his decision to briefly record video of the man changing in the locker room was a mistake.
Court records show that police viewed the video taken on Cross’s camera and observed several seconds of video of the man changing in the locker room but there were no video images found on the camera of him in the bathroom stall.
A Superior Court judge on Oct. 23, 2010 sentenced Cross to 180 days, which he suspended in full, three years of supervised probation, and a $50 fine.
One of at least two versions of the anonymous flier disclosing Cross’s 2009 arrest includes links to two online news articles that report on the recommendation of a D.C. Bar disciplinary committee that investigated Cross’s arrest and guilty plea for possible violations of the “standards governing the practice of law in the District of Columbia.”
In a 47-page report released in May 2015, a Hearing Committee of the D.C. Court of Appeals Board on Professional Responsibility found that Cross’s actions related to his arrest and guilty plea violated at least two standards required for lawyers pertaining to “criminal acts reflecting adversely on honesty, fitness, or trustworthiness.”
The committee recommended that Cross be suspended from practicing law for three years and “required to prove his fitness to practice law as a condition for reinstatement.” However, the full Board of Professional Responsibility and the Court of Appeals, which must ratify or make changes to the committee’s recommendations, have yet to act on the recommendations.
Meanwhile, Cross told the Blade that he now feels his initial decision to accept the offer to plead guilty may have been a mistake. He said the decision came at a time when police and prosecutors exerted “tremendous pressure” on him to plead guilty to the single charge of voyeurism. He noted that police raided his and his husband’s apartment in Silver Spring, Md., shortly after his arrest and confiscated all of his electronic equipment, including computers, laptops and cell phone.
A short time later, police informed the D.C. law firm where he worked at the time that if Cross did not plead guilty they would place a “freeze” on all of the firm’s computers while they conducted forensic tests on them to determine whether Cross had stored improper videos on the computers. Nothing improper or illegal was ever found on any of Cross’s computers or electronic devices searched by police, Cross’s lawyer stated in a court document.
Cross said his attorney advised him not to make an issue of the Craigslist posting by the man at the gym because it would be hard to prove in court. Among other things, Cross said that police “wiped clean” the hard drives on all of his computers after they confiscated them, removing his copy of the Craigslist profile of the person he believed to be the man he recorded at the gym.
“In retrospect I should have done that probably — fought harder,” Cross said. “But it seemed like it was going to be too much money and too little upside,” he said. “Especially when all they’re saying to you is pay this fine and take probation and we’ll leave you alone. It was just like OK, fine, leave me alone. This whole thing is going to go away,” he said. “But it hasn’t.”
Since moving to Baltimore more than five years ago, Cross has started a new career as a legal technical consultant, he said. He has also worked as a volunteer civic activist. He is a former board member of the Charles Village Civic Association and currently serves as president of the Old Goucher Community Association, according to his campaign website.
He said he has a suspicion of who might be responsible for the anonymous fliers attacking him, but he doesn’t want to identify the suspected source of the fliers at this time. Cross also said he has begun the process of filing a formal complaint against the person he suspects of creating the flier, but he declined to elaborate.
Jared Demarinis, director of candidacy and finance for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said the flier is in violation of the state’s campaign finance reporting law, which requires all campaign ads or literature distributed to voters to have an “authority line,” which identifies the organization or individual who creates and distributes such a flier.
He said if the sender of the flier spent $5,000 or more to create and distribute it the individual or organization behind it must register with the Board of Elections. Expenditures less than $5,000 do not require registration but the fliers must include the “authority” line identifying the person or group behind it, he said. Failure to do so would subject the party responsible for the flier to a $500 fine, according to Demarinis.
Maryland State Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), whose district partially overlaps the 12th City Council district, said she’s troubled over the anonymous fliers attacking Cross. Washington is the only out LGBT African-American member of the Maryland Legislature.
She said she has decided not to endorse candidates for mayor or City Council, but noted that she is aware of what she called Cross’s strong record of advocacy for the community through his civic activism.
“We have moved so far in our state” on the LGBT rights front, she told the Blade. “And to use these homophobic scare tactics to dissuade people from electing the first out City Council person in Baltimore City would be really unfortunate,” she said.
“People should be assessed on their willingness or their value and what they can do in the office and their vision for the office,” she added. “I know Kelly has a great track record of working hard in the community. For his community I know he would do a great job advocating as the City Council person.”