Controversy Over Suburban L.A. Restroom Sting Continues to Rage
A Southern California police department and media outlets came under fire last week for publishing the mugshots, names and birth dates of 18 men arrested in a lewd conduct sweep.
Six undercover operations that the Manhattan Beach Police Department conducted at a Marine Avenue restroom in March netted the 18 men on misdemeanor charges ranging from soliciting lewd conduct to indecent exposure, using a peephole in a restroom and resisting arrest. The restroom had become a popular cruising spot.
Several of the men claim they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Manhattan Beach Police Department released all of their names and mugshots to the media on April 3.
KCBS/KCAL was the first major network to publish the mugshots that evening, prompting the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center to call for their immediate removal.
"Naturally we don’t condone illegal activity of any kind, but these men haven’t been proven guilty and historically, charges such as those leveled against them have involved police entrapment," said Darrel Cummings, the Center’s chief of staff. "Publishing their photos serves no purpose other than to humiliate and destroy their lives."
By the following day, the mugshots had been plastered across the net after several additional media outlets published them.
CBS/KCAL spokesman Mike Nelson told EDGE that the station did not publish the mug shots because of the men’s sexual orientation.
"Like other stations in the market, we reported on a significant local news story regarding the arrest of a large number of individuals," he said. "Our coverage, like that of several other media outlets, included showing the official photos of those arrested, photographs that were provided by the Manhattan Beach Police Department."
Nelson further defended CBS/KCAL’s decision to publish the mugshots.
"This reporting is consistent with our long-held journalistic standards by which we provide the public with information and photos from law enforcement agencies about arrested individuals on a regular basis without regard to their gender, race or sexual orientation," he said.
Jim Key, chief public affairs officer at the Center, questioned the station’s consistency in including mugshots.
"In a story last year about 11 men arrested in a prostitution sex sting, no names or photos were published," he said. "In a subsequent story about 16 men arrested in a prostitution sting, no names or photos were published. And in a story about three Manhattan Beach police officers fired for covering up a hit-and-run, there were no photos of the officers. Why was the undercover sting at a public bathroom treated differently-and not just by KCBS/KCAL, as we’ve learned, but many other news stations and publications?"
The Manhattan Beach Police Department could not be reached for comment as of deadline.