A Broward County judge has confirmed the Hollywood Police Department ruined the lives of ten gay men for no reason at all. This past July 26, Hollywood PD raided a gay-cruising hangout and arrested eight men allegedly caught masturbating in a private backroom and two others accused of performing oral sex on each other. The police department then sent the men's photos and names to the media, and many outlets happily blasted out the men's identities. One man said he was outed and fired from his job as a result.
Today Broward County Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren confirmed what LGBTQ+ advocates have said for months: The locked room at the Pleasure Emporium was, in fact, a "private space," and the men should not have been charged for exposing their genitals "in public." Lerner-Wren dismissed a charge against one of the men involved.
"The court finds that the Pleasure Emporium is not a public space under [Florida Statute] 800.03," Lerner-Wren wrote. "The patrons who access the private viewing theaters where consensual activity occurs in the presence of other consenting adults objectively and subjectively possess a reasonable expectation of privacy."
It's not clear how Lerner-Wren's ruling will affect the criminal charges against the other men in the case.
In August, Hollywood PD adamantly defended its decision to raid a gay-cruising destination. HPD spokesperson Miranda Grossman — who, oddly enough, is a former reporter for the progressive news outlet Fusion — stated that the Pleasure Emporium was "not private, but open to the public."
She then added, "As a reporter, I am sure you can understand releasing information related to criminal activity is in the public’s best interest."
It turns out the men were not actually committing a crime, according to Lerner-Wren. Via email, Grossman said HPD still believes it was in the right.
"The Hollywood Police Department respectfully disagrees with the judge’s interpretation," she said. "The State Attorney’s Office felt there was sufficient basis to file charges in August. The department still believes the establishment is not private since it is open to the public."
A spokesperson for Broward State Attorney Mike Satz, who callously decided to prosecute every man arrested in the raid, said the State Attorney's Office "will conduct a review of the record to determine how we will proceed.”
After the arrest, many media outlets published mug shots of the men. WPLG went so far as to provide a bulleted list of every man's name and hometown. LGBTQ+ advocacy groups warn that news organizations need to be extremely careful when reporting on the identities of LGBTQ+ individuals — people may not be out in public and could face persecution or harassment from co-workers or family members. After New Times contacted the Miami Herald about its story on the raid, the newspaper removed the mugshots and names. But other TV news clips remain unchanged on the web.
LGBTQ+ advocates also questioned why Hollywood Police would raid a known gay-cruising spot in the first place. Closeted men who are either exploring their sexuality or unable or unwilling to come out are known to frequent private gay-cruising areas to enjoy themselves in private. Gay-cruising raids are seen as a relic from an earlier, less accepting time for LGBTQ+ Americans.
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One man's lawyer even told New Times that her client was suicidal after the arrest and had fled Cuba because he thought America would be more accepting of LGBTQ+ people. Instead, he says he was outed and fired from his job due to the actions of the Hollywood cops.
In a motion to dismiss the case, lawyers for the accused men argued the rooms were clearly private: Images online show the Pleasure Emporium advertises the room as "private." Moreover, the room has the word "private" written in gigantic letters above the door:
Rhonda Gelfman, an attorney lawyer for many of the accused men, says she plans to help the few who pleaded guilty to the charges before the judge ruled the raid was bunk. (It's not clear if any of the other defendants still have open criminal cases related to the raid.)
"I'm happy with the judge’s well-reasoned opinion and that justice was served," she said through a spokesperson. "I plan to now spend time assisting the others who had pleaded guilty to this case when they should not have."