Class Challenges Pseudo-Gay Cop Decoys

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – San Leandro Police conspire to lure men into stalls in public restroom to bust them for seeking consensual sex, two men claim in a civil rights class action.
     Lead plaintiffs Steven Mengel and Michael Woody sued San Leandro, its Police Department and Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli, and four officers, in Federal Court.
     The class “consists of all men who have been falsely arrested for soliciting or engaging in lewd conduct by San Leandro Police acting as decoys, because they are perceived to be interested in meeting in public, men interested in non-monetary intimate association with other men,” according to the complaint.
     Mengel claims he was arrested in 2012 after agreeing to perform a sexual act on undercover defendants Officer Matthew Barajas and Det. Morgan.
     “On June 12, 2012, plaintiff Mengel, in his 60s with white hair, was parked on the street near … a restroom with a reputation as being a place where men meet other men for intimate sexual conduct,” the complaint states.
     “He was approached by defendant Matthew Barajas, in his late 20s or early 30s, in plain clothes, in an unmarked vehicle, acting as a decoy, pretending to be a person interested in intimate sexual conduct.
     “He asked defendant Mengel if Mengel was ‘looking for anything.’ This is a code expression to indicate an interest in intimate conduct.
     “Mengel replied, ‘Not right now.’
     “Barajas then said he was new at this and asked if Mengel was ‘looking for anything later’ to which Mengel replied: ‘Possibly.’
     “Barajas then suggested noon of the following day to which Mengel said: ‘That’s fine.'”
     Mengel claims Barajas, accompanied by Morgan, met him in the same place the next day.
     “After a brief conversation, Mengel agreed to give Barajas and Morgan a ‘hand job’ which is a code word for manually stimulating Barajas’ penis,” the complaint states.
     “The three entered the restroom with Morgan acting as a ‘lookout’ to prevent others from entering the restroom, possibly observing the conduct, and thereby being offended. At all times Mengel reasonably believed that his conduct would not offend anyone present.
     “Mengel and Barajas entered a toilet stall which did not contain a door. Mengel then reached for Barajas’ zipper but Barajas pushed his hand away.
     “Barajas then said: ‘You’re sure you don’t want any money for this?’
     “At this point defendant Morgan accompanied by [defendant] Sgt. Anthony, and [defendant] detective Clifford entered the restroom and arrested Mengel, charging him with a violation of Penal Code section 647(d) loitering around a toilet.”
     Mengel claims it was a false arrest: that he did not “loiter with the specific intent to engage in any sort of lewd conduct, nor did he solicit any act intending to perform it in a public place where he knew or should have known that there were persons present who were likely to be offended.”
     He claims that San Leandro Police do not use women decoy officers to arrest men for similar conduct, nor do male decoys arrest women for it.
     Criminal charges against Mengel were dismissed pursuant to a demurrer.
     Nonetheless, Mengel says he “has become mentally upset, distressed and aggravated, and suffered great humiliation, embarrassment, and mental anguish.”
     He claims the city police policy violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
     Woody was arrested after a plainclothes officer approached him in a separate restroom, then “followed him aggressively urging him to stay,” the complaint states.
     While waiting for a stall, the unnamed defendant officer (Doe I) “was very friendly, asking plaintiff Woody if he had ever visited the restroom before. Plaintiff said, ‘Yes.’
     “A few minutes later, the occupants of the restroom left. Plaintiff then entered intending to use a stall for elimination. However, when he observed that Doe I had followed him into the bathroom, plaintiff changed his mind and left.
     “Doe I followed him aggressively urging him to stay. Plaintiff said he might return later. Doe I said he only had 20 minutes.
     “Plaintiff started his car as if to drive off. At this point Doe I showed plaintiff a police badge and stated he was under arrest for a violation of Penal Code section 647(a), lewd conduct,” the complaint states.
     Woody claims that no charges were ever filed against him, but Police Chief Spagnoli issued a press release stating that he had been arrested for “loitering with intent.”
     Woody suffered distress, humiliation and embarrassment.
     The plaintiffs estimate that “hundreds” of men have been falsely arrested on charges of “soliciting or engaging in lewd conduct.”
     “The membership of the defined class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impractical,” the 16-page lawsuit states. “(T)here are hundreds of men who have been illegally arrested for violations of California law by the SLPD because they were perceived to be interested in meeting in public, men interested in non-monetary intimate association with other men.”
     San Leandro, pop. 85,000, is on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, between Oakland and Hayward.
     The plaintiffs seek costs and damages for conspiracy to violate civil rights, and want the defendants enjoined from targeting, harassing or arresting men who are perceived to be interested in meeting in public other men interested in “non­monetary intimate association.”
     They are represented by Bruce Nickerson, of San Carlos.

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