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Palm Springs Gay Man Accuses the Riverside County Sheriff’s of Discrimination

Palm Springs Gay Man Accuses the Riverside County Sheriff’s of Discrimination

by Karen Ocamb on January 12, 2012

UPDATED WITH CLARIFICATION: Before the Williams Institute released its US Census data last summer, Palm Springs had been considered by many to be the “gayest” city in the nation. After August 18, Palm Springs officially fell to number three on that list with 115 gay couples per 1,000 households.

But there appears to be an antigay sentiment wafting through Palm Springs, too, some of which is overt and some – as expressed recently by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department – more a result of lazy ignorance.

According to a California Watch report last November, hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation rose by 25% in California – most dramatically in Palm Springs where antigay hate crimes jumped from three cases in 2009 to 14 in 2010. There is no official explanation for the uptick – but in 2009, the Palm Springs Police Department was under intense fire by the gay community for a sex sting operation during which Chief David Dominguez and other officers made insensitive remarks about gays.

“What a bunch of filthy mother (expletive),” Dominguez allegedly said [and later admitted saying] of the operation in a private parking lot public restrooms where 19 people were arrested. “You guys should get paid extra for this.” Dominguez subsequently resigned. Interestingly, while there are three openly gay Palm Springs City Councilmembers, none of the city’s 99 police officers are openly gay.

During the trial, many of the suspects were represented by Deputy Public Defender Roger Tansey, who accused the police of selective enforcement targeting gays.  Last November, the LA Times reported: “Tansey said the sting was part of a pattern for the police department – every few years, they would “go out and round up the gay guys.” Most of those arrested reached plea agreements to avoid being labeled sex offenders.  (PLEASE SEE CLARIFICATION BELOW)

Now Tansey is representing Michael Lamar Salomonson, a 46 year old chronic meth user from Palm Springs who was arrested for burglarizing a Palm Springs home in December. Tansey told The Times that during plea negotiations with the Riverside County district attorney’s office, Salomonson would be sent to a detention center in Banning for a 180-day Residential Substance Abuse Program instead of going to jail for two years.

But the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, which oversees the jail system, has refused to enroll Salomonson in the rehab program because he’s gay and therefore must be held in protective custody away from the general population. “It’s a wonderful program, but they won’t let him in,” Tansey told The Times. “I think it’s just easier for the jail to run it this way, but you can’t legally discriminate just because it’s easier for you.”

Tansey has filed a motion in Riverside County Superior Court to force the Sheriff’s Department to accept gay inmates in the program, with the majority of those enrolled being meth addicts.

Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jerry Gutierrez, who supervises the county jails told The Times that enrolling inmates in protective custody, – which the paper also notes includes those with medical disabilities, victims of jail assaults and inmates convicted of sexually assaulting children – could create a volatile situation.  “Our goal is to treat everyone who needs to be treated in our program, but there’s only so much that can go around,” Gutierrez said. “We only have so many resources.”

UPDATED CLARIFICATION:  I wrote about the Palm Springs Police sex sting in this report because I recognized the name of attorney Roger Tansey. The idea was to illustrate how there has been more antigay sentiment than most LGBT people associate with Palm Springs. I thought there was more initial outcry over the sting than there apparently was – something I understood from phone calls I received after the arrests. However, a commentator named Jay has clarified what actually happened – which I am now posting here, in case you don’t read comments. My appreciation for the clarification: 

Karen, there was no outcry initially. The outcry came over a year later when during the discovery process a video tape emerged in which it was clear that young, hunky undercover officers could be seen simulating masturbation and enticing people to have “public sex” even after they suggesting going inside. On the video tape could also be heard the Police Chief’s derogatory comments. That is when there was an uproar. Tansey raised the issue of selective enforcement–there have been almost no cases of anyone charged with having public heterosexual sex–but a Riverside County judge tossed the case out. Only then did the Riverside County D.A. reduce the charges to an offense that did not require registering as a sex offender. Then nearly all the defendants accepted a plea deal. The cases of the men who can be seen enticed by the undercover policemen in the videotape were dropped. But in total it was a great miscarriage of justice and certainly a waste of police resources to conduct such a sting in the first place. The “public sexual activity” that was documented on the tape was “public” only in the most technical sense. It took place on private property and could be seen only by someone (like the police) who went way out of their way in the very early hours of the morning to see it. The incident did indeed illustrate that there was a problem with the police in a city most gays might think would not have such attitudes and problems. Indeed, it was an eye-opener for many gay residents of Palm Springs, including members of the Police Advisory board.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay January 13, 2012 at 3:24 PM

The comments here related to the sex sting operation in Palm Springs in 2009 are inaccurate. In the first place, it had nothing to do with public restrooms. It had to do with activity in the parking lot of a Warm Sands motel. The activity occurred in the early a.m. on private property. Most of the controversy occurred because the Riverside County D.A. originally charged the men arrested under a statute that required that they register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. That is why so many fought the charges and why the homophobic comments of the police officers, including Dominguez, came to light. The Palm Springs PD were using entrapment tactics reminiscent of the 1960s. They have pledged to no longer use such tactics, but the viciousness with which they went after the arrested men makes one distrustful of anything they say.

Reply

Karen Ocamb January 13, 2012 at 3:40 PM

Hi Jay – I stand corrected: private parking lot, not public restrooms, which I read in another story. The LA Times story – to which I link later (http://tinyurl.com/4seppfh) does say parking lot. However, it’s my understanding that the “entrapment” and “selective enforcement” tactics were the original cause for the outcry before the DA charged them in a way that would require them to register as sex offenders – a story from KNBC to which I also link.

The point of adding the brief section on the Palm Springs PD was to illustrate that there has been an ongoing problem in a city most gays might think would not have such attitudes and problems.
Thanks for the correction.
Karen O.

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Jay January 13, 2012 at 10:19 PM

Karen, there was no outcry initially. The outcry came over a year later when during the discovery process a video tape emerged in which it was clear that young, hunky undercover officers could be seen simulating masturbation and enticing people to have “public sex” even after they suggesting going inside. On the video tape could also be heard the Police Chief’s derogatory comments. That is when there was an uproar. Tansey raised the issue of selective enforcement–there have been almost no cases of anyone charged with having public heterosexual sex–but a Riverside County judge tossed the case out. Only then did the Riverside County D.A. reduce the charges to an offense that did not require registering as a sex offender. Then nearly all the defendants accepted a plea deal. The cases of the men who can be seen enticed by the undercover policemen in the videotape were dropped. But in total it was a great miscarriage of justice and certainly a waste of police resources to conduct such a sting in the first place. The “public sexual activity” that was documented on the tape was “public” only in the most technical sense. It took place on private property and could be seen only by someone (like the police) who went way out of their way in the very early hours of the morning to see it. The incident did indeed illustrate that there was a problem with the police in a city most gays might think would not have such attitudes and problems. Indeed, it was an eye-opener for many gay residents of Palm Springs, including members of the Police Advisory board.

Reply

Karen Ocamb January 13, 2012 at 10:31 PM

Thanks. I’m going to move this up to the main part of the blog in case folks don’t read the comments.

I heard about it right after the arrests so that may be why I thought there was an initial uproar….Appreciate the clarification.

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Jay January 14, 2012 at 2:34 PM

Thanks, Karen, for adding the information to the main article. I think the Warm Sands sting is a fascinating story. At one point, I thought about writing an article about it for precisely the reasons you indicate: one would have thought that in a city with an openly gay mayor and council member and CEO, the sort of thing that went down would not have been tolerated in the first place. The tenacity with which these people were prosecuted was outrageous on so many levels. Tansey is a hero because he fought back and in the process discovered information that discredited the police chief and the entire operation. As it turned out, the “sting” became toxic, yet the Riverside Count DA refused to drop the charges. When they finally lowered them to a charge that did not require registration as a sex offender, the people who were arrested accepted a plea deal. I wish they had continued fighting, but I understand that it was probably worth it to pay a small fine rather than go through the ordeal of a trial that they may not win. But the incident was far more costly to the image of Palm Springs than it was to the individuals who were arrested. I hope that it was also a wake-up call. (Another factor in all this was the fact that the openly gay Mayor was running for Congress against Bono when the story broke about the Chief’s derogatory comments. He clearly did not want to be involved in this issue and so kept his hands off. At first he came to the Chief’s defense and then helped maneuver his resignation, but permitting the use of such outrageous entrapment techniques was a failure of leadership on the part of everyone concerned with police enforcement and governance in Palm Springs.

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Karen Ocamb January 14, 2012 at 5:50 PM

Jay – Please keep me/us updated on what is happening there – if there’s any more fallout.

I wonder if all of this might be raised again during this year’s elections with Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis deciding not to run again for re-election (the third congressional Republican from CA this year) and openly gay Mark Takano also running for Congress from the Riverside area.
Thanks again for all your help and keeping an eye out.

Reply

Will Paige March 9, 2012 at 5:39 AM

Its important to note it also would not have been a story at all if not for Deputy Public Defender Roger Tansey and Attorney Joe Rhea. Rhea came to all the local papers with the story and no one but our small local gay magazine, the Desert Daily Guide covered it. From that article, all of the victims where able to join together to bring in the legal horsepower require to fight the system. When the videos where first shown the was no outcry, there was disgust over what these men appeared to have done, everyone left the courtroom thinking it was a lost case. It was not until these lawyers broke it down to expose the entrapment, the chefs verbal assault and one cop positioned as an extra, actually using a bicycle pump to simulate masturbation. Also after that first day of court, the police made a statement of vindication stating that it was a shame Cheif David Dominguez had to step down. The Police Advisory board continues to be ineffective, and few know it even exists.

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