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Gay men arrested under Md. sodomy law in adult bookstore raid

Attorney says prosecutors enforcing unconstitutional measure

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Police in Harford County arrested nine men at an adult bookstore in May.

Harford County, Md., Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested four men on a charge of Perverted Sexual Practice under the state’s sodomy law during a May 20 raid on the Bush River Books & Video store in the town of Abington, located 25 miles north of Baltimore.

A statement released by the Sheriff’s Office to the Washington Blade, at the Blade’s request, says a total of nine arrests were made during the May 20 “operation,” which the statement says was prompted by complaints about the adult store by nearby residents and some of its patrons.

According to the statement, among the nine men arrested, three were charged only with Perverted Sexual Practice, one was charged with Perverted Sexual Practice and Indecent Exposure, four were charged only with indecent exposure, and one was charged with Solicitation of Prostitution.

A friend of one of the arrested men told the Blade that his friend rented one of the store’s private video rooms and was with another male friend inside the room when sheriff’s deputies “in full riot gear unlocked his room and arrested him and his friend” on a charge of indecent exposure.

“They spent the night in jail and were badly treated,” said the friend who spoke with the Blade.

A sign on the outside of the Bush River Books & Video store says the store has four theaters on its premises. Sources familiar with the store have said it also charges a fee to rent small video rooms with doors that lock from the inside, where adult videos can be viewed on small video screens.

The store’s owner did not respond to a request by the Blade for comment.

Attorney Greg Nevins, who serves as senior counsel for the national LGBTQ litigation organization Lambda Legal, said the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Lawrence v. Texas struck down state sodomy laws like the Maryland law as unconstitutional pertaining to consenting adults in a private setting.

Aside from the Supreme Court ruling, the Maryland General Assembly last year approved legislation repealing the state’s sodomy law known as the Maryland Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice Act.

But Nevins said the online legal reference site WestLaw, which keeps track of state laws throughout the country, shows that the Maryland Perverted Sexual Practice Act was still on the books, leading him to speculate that only part of the law may have been repealed.

The Maryland General Assembly is currently in recess and the Blade couldn’t immediately reach a spokesperson for lawmakers who worked on the repeal bill to confirm whether all or just part of the sodomy law was repealed.

Nevins said a subsequent ruling in 2013 handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which includes Maryland and Virginia, reconfirmed the Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision. He said the 2013 ruling “declared that all laws that have as their only element the act of oral or anal sex are facially unconstitutional” and should not be enforced under circumstances similar to the Maryland bookstore arrests.

“There are cases around the country discussing whether certain areas are private, usually focusing on whether the participants had a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Nevins said. He noted that the Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision and subsequent appeals court rulings have considered claims by police and prosecutors that court rulings overturning sodomy laws should not be interpreted to allow sexual activity in public places.

But Nevins said a strong legal case could be made that a private video room with a locked door such as the ones at Bush River Books and Video store should hold the same degree of presumed privacy as that of a rented hotel room.

A spokesperson for Harford County State’s Attorney Albert J. Peisinger, who serves as the county’s lead prosecutor, said his office would have no comment on whether prosecutors or the Sheriff’s Office have legal authority to make arrests and prosecute cases on the charge of Perverted Sexual Practice if that statute was repealed or struck down as unconstitutional.

“It is the policy of this office to make no comment on pending matters of investigations, including any underlying legal theories,” said spokesperson Gavin Patashnick. “That said, I would be happy to have a more substantive discussion regarding the bookstore once these cases have concluded,” he said.

Patashnick also declined to say whether his office dropped charges against two of the nine men arrested in the bookstore raid, whose cases could not be found in the online court records for the Harford County District Court, where the cases for six of the nine arrested men have appeared.

Of the six cases the Blade found in the online court records, just one was for the charge of Perverted Sexual Practice. The court records show that each of the six men whose cases were found in the online records, including the man charged with Perverted Sexual Practice, were scheduled to go on trial on Aug. 2 for their respective charges, which are misdemeanors.

Bradley Clark, an attorney for the Harford County Public Defender’s office who is representing one of the arrested men charged with indecent exposure, told the Blade that arrests of defendants that do not appear in the public court records usually indicate the case was dropped by prosecutors or dismissed by a judge.

Clark agreed with Nevins that the men charged in the bookstore raid with Perverted Sexual Practice should have a strong legal case to challenge the arrests under the Lawrence Supreme Court ruling and other court rulings declaring sodomy laws unconstitutional.

The statement released to the Blade by Harford County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Kyle Andersen, in contrast to the State’s Attorney’s office, provided considerable details in support of the arrests.

“In the past several months, we have received an increased number of concerns and allegations of a wide variety of illegal activity occurring at Bush River Books and Video in the 3900 block of Pulaski Highway in Abingdon from citizens and patrons of the business,” the statement says.

“We take all citizen concerns seriously, and there is an active investigation into these concerns,” the statement continues. “Recently, members of our Special Operations Division have taken part in a handful of operations at that location, in an attempt to curb these illegal activities. On May 20, 2021, such an operation occurred,” it says.

“During that operation, an undercover deputy entered the premises and observed a variety of illegal sexual activities that were occurring on the premises,” the statement says. “Additionally, an additional undercover female deputy was approached and solicited for prostitution. At the conclusion of the operation, nine individuals were charged,” the statement concludes.

An online search using the name of the Bush River Books and Video store leads to media reports, including a January 2012 article in the Baltimore Sun, showing the store has been the target of law enforcement crackdowns for at least a decade. The 2012 Sun story reports that a Catholic priest was among the men arrested at the store during one of the 2012 Sheriff’s Office raids.

A search by the Blade also led to an online petition posted on the Change.com website calling on Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and the Harford County Council to “shut down” Bush River Books and Video store on grounds that “illegal activity” takes place there.

“We are asking the county to charge the owners of the store with the crimes that are being allowed to continue there, and to shut down this nuisance to our neighborhood,” said Abingdon resident Heather Cantos, who states in the web posting that she started the petition.

One of the arrested gay men, who spoke to the Blade on condition that he not be identified, said he was aware that the store has been the subject of law enforcement crackdowns in the past.

“But, you know, I went inside and was hooking up with someone and the next thing I know, eight of us were against the wall with handcuffs with plastic zip ties on them,” he said. “And we all spent the night in jail. I was released at like six o’clock in the morning,” he said.

He added, “I don’t know why people have a problem with this. We go there to meet people like us.”

Jeremy LaMaster, executive director of the Maryland statewide LGBTQ advocacy group Free State Justice, said he was not aware of the Bush River Books & Video arrests until contacted about the arrests by the Blade. He said Free State Justice would consider what, if any action, the organization might take in response to the reports that gay men were being arrested and prosecuted on sodomy related charges.

Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride, an organization that, according to its website, “provides unwavering advocacy and support for queer (LGBTQIA+ people, communities, and their families in Cecil and Harford counties,” did not reply to messages left by the Blade seeking comment on the arrests of gay men at the adult bookstore.

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Virginia

Suhas Subramanyam wins Democratic primary in Va. 10th Congressional District

Former Obama advisor vows to champion LGBTQ rights in Congress

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Virginia state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam (D-Fairfax County) (Photo courtesy of Subramanyam's campaign)

Virginia state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam (D-Loudoun County) on Tuesday won the Democratic primary in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) in Congress.

Subramanyam won the Democratic primary in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District with 30.4 percent of the votes. The Loudoun County Democrat who was an advisor to former President Barack Obama will face Republican Mike Clancy in November’s general election.

“I’m thrilled to be the Democratic nominee in Virginia’s 10th, and to have won this election during Pride Month,” Subramanyam told the Washington Blade on Wednesday in an emailed statement. “As I have done in the state legislature and as an Obama White House policy advisor, I will always stand as an ally with the LGBTQ+ community.”

Wexton, who is a vocal LGBTQ rights champion, last September announced she will not seek re-election after doctors diagnosed her with progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disorder she has described as “Parkinson’s on steroids.” Wexton is a vice chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus and a previous co-chair of its Transgender Equality Task Force.

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Baltimore

Police say they didn’t spray a chemical agent at Baltimore Pride. Why don’t those who attended believe it?

Attendees allege city failed to adequately respond to emergency

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A parade participant is photographed clutching on to a rainbow flag at Baltimore’s Pride Parade held on June 15, 2024. (Photo by Ronica Edwards/Baltimore Banner)

BY BRENNA SMITH and JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV | A chemical agent that disrupted Pride Parade festivities last weekend continues to cause confusion and raise suspicion among many in the Baltimore LGBTQIA+ community, who question the police account of what happened.

The Baltimore Police Department said Tuesday that they had determined the released substance was Mace, but did not say how they came to that conclusion. A BPD spokesperson said that the chemical was released after two groups of people got into an altercation. Three people were treated and released from a nearby hospital because of injuries from the spray.

The rest of this article can be read on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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Baltimore

Carlton R. Smith: LGBTQ advocate, ‘mayor’ of Mount Vernon, passes away

‘The Duchess’ died on May 29 in his sleep

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Carlton R. Smith, an LGBTQ advocate, died May 29. He was 61. (Photo courtesy of Carlton R. Smith)

BY JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV | Carlton R. Smith was affectionately called “The Duchess” in a nod to royalty, because of his unofficial role of mayor of Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. He was a “walking billboard” for Calvin Klein, with a love for purple, Batman, cooking, house music, Prince, and Diana Ross.

“If you said Duchess, you knew who that was,” said his close friend of 25-years, Carrietta Hiers.

The rest of this article can be found on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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