Activists who met with Robert Morgenthau report that the district attorney said he would investigate the 2008 prostitution arrests of at least 30 gay and bisexual men in at least six Manhattan porn shops, and may dismiss the cases against five of the men who are contesting the charges.
“The first thing Morgenthau said was, ‘We are going to investigate all these cases,’” said Joey Nelson, coordinator for the Queer Justice League and a member of the Coalition to Stop the Arrests. “That was the first thing out of his mouth.”
The March 6 meeting lasted roughly an hour, and included coalition members, elected officials or their representatives, community groups, and Leroy Frazer, the executive assistant district attorney for governmental affairs and community relations.
“They were going to go back and start looking at all the individual cases,” said Robert Pinter, also a coalition member and one of the men who was arrested last year. “They really seemed genuinely concerned that something wrong was happening here.”
The arrests, which were later cited in lawsuits seeking to close the shops brought by the city against five of the six businesses, are widely seen as false arrests in the gay community.
“They weren’t trying to cover things up or hide,” Pinter said. “Morgenthau himself brought up that he has prosecuted police over 300 times in his career.”
Morgenthau’s office could quickly dismiss the charges against the five men who pleaded not guilty, but Pinter and Nelson said no promises were made.
“He said that those would be easier to act on, but there was no promise of automatic dismissal,” Nelson said. “He said they would investigate those cases and that those would be the first that they would investigate.”
Morgenthau’s office may already be doing that. At court dates, the district attorney’s office has repeatedly adjourned the cases saying they are not ready, leading defense attorneys to speculate that the prosecution is letting the time limit it has to bring the cases to trial run out so the cases will have to be dismissed.
Activists asked that Morgenthau reopen the other cases in which some of the men are known to have pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and received minor sentences. Those dispositions should be vacated, the charges dismissed, and the cases sealed, activists said.
Morgenthau cannot do that on his own, though he might not oppose such motions. Those men convicted would have to ask that their pleas be vacated.
“Those cases would have to be brought forward by the individuals,” Nelson said. “At this point, we should be doing an all-points bulletin that people who have been arrested should be contacting the district attorney’s office to ask if their cases can be vacated.”
The meeting was convened by State Senator Thomas K. Duane who, activists said, was an effective advocate.
“I thought Tom Duane was very, very strong in putting out the lay of the land,” Nelson said. “He called it homophobic… He said it was a set-up.”
Duane, who is openly gay, represents Chelsea where some of the arrests happened. State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, an out lesbian who represents the West Village, was also praised by activists.
“[Duane] was really forceful, and Deborah Glick chimed in a really forceful way,” Pinter said. “They were just very outspoken.”
Other attendees included Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, who represents Chelsea, Brendan Fay, a coalition member, and staff from the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP).
Activists had a February 11 meeting, organized by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an out lesbian who represents Chelsea, with senior police officials who said they had paused in their efforts.
“The message, at least in the DA’s office, was heard really loud and clear,” Pinter said.