Federal lawsuit on behalf of one of 40 arrested men is resolved. Police department agrees to train staff on constitutional rights of gays and others.
On January 25, Lambda Legal announced the resolution of a lawsuit against the Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) in Tennessee on behalf of Kenneth Giles, one of 40 men arrested in a public sex sting, whose photos were made available to the media, contrary to the Department’s usual practices.
Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry stated that the JCPD’s media efforts related to the sting operation were merely meant to dissuade others from illegal conduct. While denying any discriminatory motive, Lowry admitted that both the JCPD and Johnson City as a whole would be best served by the Department’s adopting a nondiscrimination policy that conforms to the guarantees of equal protection in the U.S. Constitution, and that the Department’s media policy should be updated to address the release of arrestee photographs.
Immediately following the 2007 sex sting, the Johnson City Police Department released photos of the suspects and other personal information to the media. The local news then ran the story prominently along with the pictures and addresses of the men involved. Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit the following year, arguing that the JCPD violated federal equal protection law by singling out these men for harsher treatment by making their images available to the media.
A review of the police department’s press releases for over a period of a year revealed that of approximately 600 other releases, none pertaining to arrests was accompanied by photos or personally approved by the chief. Of the 40 arrested, one man committed suicide and several others lost their jobs, including Giles.
As part of the resolution, Chief Lowry announced a program to train JCPD officers on all new policies and to recognize and avoid conduct that would violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. The training will also be aimed at improving the interactions between the JCPD and members of minority groups, including but not limited to persons whose sexual orientation is other than heterosexual, while the officers carry out their duties in the community. Lambda Legal Supervising Senior Staff Attorney Greg Nevins says that these actions “will not only help avoid future disputes like this one, but also lay the groundwork for improved relations between the police department and the LGBT community in Johnson City.”
The case is Giles v. City of Johnson City, et al.