Sting Operation Case Reinforces Right To Be Flirty

BY Crystal A. Proxmire

WESTLAND - Though the "fag bagging" days of police department sting operations designed to entrap gay men at common gathering places are generally over, court cases are still being litigated. One such case that began in 2007 has finally brought some level of justice to the man who was unfairly targeted by an undercover Wayne County officer just because he was gay.

The Jan. 7, 2013 decision in Alman et al v. Reed et al, tells a story that starts off almost like a romance novel. It was Oct. 12, 2007 when Randy Alman, who lived in Indiana with his partner, was in Michigan helping his mother move. He needed a break and decided to check out Hix Park, a local nature trail that was known to be safe for gay men. According to the ruling, Alman sat in his car for a bit then decided to get some air. He walked to a picnic table where he sat quietly by himself. Until a stranger approached him and began making conversation.

The man, who was actually deputy Kevin Reed of the Westland Police Department working undercover, testified that Alman started talking about deer.

"According to Reed, Alman then invited Reed to "take a walk down the trail" to see if they could find "a big buck," the decision states. "Alman disputes this, claiming that he got up and said he was going for a walk and leaving the park, and that Reed then got up and followed him without invitation. In any event, it is undisputed that Alman began walking down a trail and that Deputy Reed followed him. According to Alman, Reed asked him if there was a more secluded spot they could go after they had been walking a short distance. Reed testified, however, that Alman veered off on his own into a small clearing after they had walked a short distance.

"Once in the clearing, the two men began talking. Alman testified that he believed that Reed was flirting with him, and that Reed told Alman that he "liked to watch." Reed testified that he told Alman he was "a little nervous" and "new to this" type of activity. The two were standing close to one another when Alman leaned forward and reached out and touched the zipper area on the front of Reed's crotch.

"The fact that Alman touched Reed's crotch is undisputed. What is disputed, however, is the nature of this touching. Alman testified that he "brushed" his hand up against Reed's zipper area and that he did not even consider it touching; Reed testified that Alman "grabbed" his crotch with his "whole cupped hand" for "an instant, maybe a second or half a second."

Then Deputy Reed revealed himself and arrested Alman, charging him with the state-level crimes of accosting and soliciting and fourth degree criminal sexual conduct. Undercover police also impounded the vehicle Alman was driving, which was registered to his partner.

When the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office told the police to dismiss the charges, the police instead switched the charges to violations of Westland municipal ordinances against disorderly conduct and battery. A judge dismissed the disorderly conduct charge but allowed prosecution on the charge of battery. A court date was scheduled and none of the involved officers showed up so the battery charge was dismissed.

Because of the ordeal, Alman, his partner and the Triangle Foundation working on their behalf sued Wayne County, Westland and the specific officers involved. They cited several reasons for the suit, including unlawful seizure of the vehicle, suppression of freedom, malicious prosecution and abuse of process. Following discovery,

defendants filed motions for summary judgment, which the district court granted

Oct. 7, 2010, dismissing all of the counts raised by plaintiffs, but only addressing the issue of the vehicle seizure, claiming it was reasonable.

Mary Kator of the Rainbow Law Center refused to give up. She represented Alman et. al. and appealed. Finally, over two years later, the Sixth Circuit Court determined that Alman had not used force and there was no reasonable cause to believe that he had. They reversed many of the dismissals, but did agree that there was no malicious prosecution, municipal liability or abuse of power.

Alman is finally free of all charges, even though the lawsuit did not garner any damages for him.

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