The windmills of Drew Park & the morality police.

For those of you who skipped high school, the title of this article is a nod to Don Quixote (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_quixote), Cervantes’ Spanish country gentleman who loses his mind and, along with his compadre Sancho Panza, mounts attacks on windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants. There are windmills in Tampa, over in Drew Park. Windmills with neon lights, peep booths, and walls displaying lots of latex . . . latex . . . well, you know. They are Tampa’s famous “adult establishments.” But seedy or not, they are simply windmills. Harmless windmills. But the cops just keep trying to make examples out of people, and are just going out of control doing it.

In the recent arrest of Robert Linger and in another one last week, law enforcement officers went to some pretty extreme lengths to snare people into activities that the government deems illegal. In Linger’s situation, it was the officers on their knees in the middle of a circle of men, inviting them to openly masturbate . . . I guess, on the officers. The one last week was a male/female officer combo, posing as swingers or players, and, similarly, bumping and grinding in front of a bunch of men, giving the impression that something big was about to happen (is that what they refer to as “the train”???). Not for nothing, but the guys that are in the ADULT bookstores probably already had their prurient interests peaked, and adding the spectre of actual sexual contact was likely too much. And so, if the arrestees did expose themselves, it was because TPD created the scenario and gave them the motive and opportunity. So, again, the cops are really going un-policed themselves in this quest to conquer to windmills.

That is, assuming that the coppers are telling the truth, and these guys did actually do something wrong. We may never know what really happened, as the LEOs are not videotaping these investigations, and virtually everyone is entering pleas or diversions programs.

Today the St. Pete Times has an article about the rash of mostly illegal arrests that have taken place in Drew Park. Check it out: http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/article637773.ece. I believe today’s Times article to be well-written and thoroughly researched. Thus, I have no issues with the writers. And, no, that is not because I was quoted in the article!

Anyway, let’s take a look, however, at some of the statements in the article. Remember, these are victimless “crimes” that we are not sure are even taking place, and the theme of this bLAWgger post is that the cops are going nuts for no reason.

  • Last year for the first time, the City Council approved spending some of the district’s $1.3-million budget on monitoring adult businesses, earmarking $132,714 to the Tampa Police Department toward this goal.

What?!? Money that could be used for children’s programs, schools, job programs, or anything other than fund cops entrapping people who are otherwise minding their business. Get real, City Counsel. You know, this is one of the reasons I don’t actually live within the city of Tampa. When was the last time something happened in one of these businesses that actually had any effect on whether someone got job training or a child had a new textbook? Again, what goes on in the adult businesses are for ADULTS and have no victims. Get your priorities straight. And stop thinking that there is some real public harm that is going on in these places.

Now, the bad part about all of this is that the money and the blessing of the City Counsel give the police license to pull off just about anything in these places, without worry, under the guise of “law enforcement.” You see, because the city earmarked special money for special operations, there had better be some results to show! So, law enforcement has undertaken an “any means necessary” approach, and are arresting people – innocent and guilty – in droves. But, again, because people are not fighting the charges (see below), we may never fully know just how many false arrests were made.

  • “The money is only for Drew Park,” she said. “They want it to go to the lingerie shops, to those adult clubs. … The Tampa Police Department did not say let’s go over and target those businesses. We would probably not be doing this if not for those residents.” (Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis)

What residents!?? No residents were out hold picket signs in front of these places while to cops were inside, organizing simulated circle j*rks (ala the Bob Linger arrest). No residents were interviewed in this article. This area is a COMMERCIAL area; again, the cops are on a quest to defeat an evil that simply does not exist. If there are any residents in the area, they are likely transient and have not been there as long as the adult businesses have. Sooooooo, if the adult shops were there first . . . . why did the “residents” move into that area? That questions takes us to the next problematic quote from the article:

  • “We want these businesses to move, to find another area,” he said. “If they find another place, that’s fine, that’s free, that’s America.” (Pastor David Velazquez, Iglesia Cristiana Puertas Abiertas)

No, pastor, you move. It is a free country. Please tell me you did not chose to open your “Puertas Abiertas” in this neighborhood, knowing these establishments were there, and are now complaining about it. You cannot legislate morality, and you cannot get the city of Tampa to fight your moral fight. Be very careful. Remember the separation of church and state? And don’t tell me that you think “it’s fine.” You are the pastor of a church, don’t tell us that you think it’s fine. You obviously do not, that is why you think they should move. Duh. And, you probably are not even a “resident” of the area yourself. Come on, man.

But, this is the type of comment that the city relies on in justifying its charge on the windmills.

  • Owner Dick Smith is frustrated by the increased police presence. He considers the Playhouse a business like any other, a place that provides a service. “They think that being an adult business is a bad image for someone who wants to invest in the community, when it’s not,” Smith said. “We’ve been here forever. They license us. If they didn’t want us there, why did they give us a license?”

Finally, the windmill speaks! Why more is there to say ? This is the most poingiant comment of the article. Why let them open only to go in and arrest their customers? Come on, City Counsel. Either close them altogether (for which you need to have way better reasons than have been used to justify the expedition to “investigate” them), or leave them alone.

  • “They’ve been humiliated,” Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said. “The purpose is to keep them from re-offending.”

So if I understand the prosecutor, all the City is trying to do is humiliate people to that they won’t do it again? Deterrance . . . what else do they use as a deterrant . . . oh, yeah, the DEATH PENALTY. NEWS FLASH FOR PROSECUTORS: it doesn’t work!!! (In case you havn’t checked, since John Spinkellink was the first person executed after the death penalty was reinstated in Florida, there have been thousands and thousands of murders in this state, electrocution and injection notwithstanding. But, that topic needs its own discussion later.) So, apparently, the prosecutors aren’t really that concerned that the morality police are manufacturing crimes and making illegal arrests, so long as folks get embarassed and the arrests stop (I say “arrests stop”, because what they want is for people to “stop doing it”, which they know from history is not going to happen, and the only way they can monitor that is by the amount of people getting popped, I guess). ANOTHER NEWS FLASH: like the death penalty, operation “Cops Gone Wild” is not going to work, either, and it is really unfair to simply arrest people in those places so that the stigma of being popped on a sex crime harasses the community into staying home and forcing those businesses to close. Besides, if the prosecutors wanted a deterrant, they’d put people in jail and give them probation over this, not give the diversion program.

  • “Very rarely do we know if the arrests are valid because the defendants just want it to go away,” said Martinez’s attorney, Joseph Bodiford. Martinez entered the intervention program.

And the voice of reason speaks. Here’s what I was talking about: because the mission of the government is to embarrass and humiliate people (see previous talking point, above), it is tough to litigate these cases because a defendant just wants it to go away. Innocent people are willing to take a plea to something they did not do just to make the case end. Yes, it is that stigmatic. I have had many clients (not just in this sting, but in years passed) who have maintained their complete innocence yet entered a plea or into a diversion program just to avoid more of the spotlight.

So what I explained to the reporter (which was distilled down to the quote above) was that we do not get the chance to test these arrests, by presenting motions to dismiss, subpoenaing the store surveillance videos, taking depositions of the coppers, and all the things we normally do. We have to live with the arrest, and the boys in blue just get more gas for their Quixote-esque charges every time an innocent person takes a hit in court.

* * * * *

So the point of this bLAWgger entry is to say that the Times article was nice, but the subject matter has been painted with a rosy hue by the City and police, and glossed-over by the community. The city made no persuasive argument that there is any compelling gevernmental or public interest being protected by this sting thing.

These stings are not working; people will still go in there for their own personal, secret reasons. Surely most are aware of the rules (as I understand are posted throughout the establishments), and will not do anything that would normally get them arrested. But, playing the game has changed since the “Don” and “Deputy Sancho Panza” have started playing. Even if someone is in an adult establishment, exercising their fundamental First Amendment rights, they still may be charged with a crime they did not commit. We don’t know, because of the way the investigations are handled (i.e. not videotaped, too many people claiming false arrests, etc).

All we know for sure is that the First Amendment and the integrity of the criminal justice system have taken all abuse. And the cycle will continue, and nothing will be resolved.

One response to “The windmills of Drew Park & the morality police.

  1. Mortimer. you are correct. It’s called “testi-lying”, and is practiced by the officers, and condoned by their supervisors and the prosecutors. You think I’m lying? Read Vincent Bugliosi’s book on the subject. He’s certainly more of an authority than me.