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.