Suspects Wrongfully Accused of Lewd Conduct at Elysian Park
The LAPD is making an increasing number of arrests at Elysian Park for Penal Code 647(a) Lewd Conduct in Public. Most of the arrests involve undercover decoy officers posing as gay men cruising at the park. When an unsuspecting gay visitor cruises or propositions one of the decoys, officers move in and make an arrest.
Penal Code 647(a) makes it a misdemeanor in California to touch your private parts, or those of another person, in public in a situation where you know or should know of the presence of third parties who would be offended by the conduct. The crime is punishable by up to a year of county jail time.
We find that most people arrested for "lewd conduct in public" at Elysian Park (and elsewhere) are innocent and wrongfully accused. Specifically, most gay men who seek to engage in sexual activity in public choose a remote spot. This may be an otherwise empty bathroom or a secluded section of the park. Because there is no one else present who would appear likely to take offense, the conduct, even if sexual in nature, doesn't meet the legal definition of lewd conduct.
Unfortunately, lewd conduct laws are widely misunderstood, especially by law enforcement. Many cops assume that it's always illegal to solicit or engage in sexual activity in public places. Consequently, many "suspects" get arrested for conduct that does not violate Penal Code 647(a).
Homophobia is a major driving force behind these sting operations and these arrests. Statistics show that the vast majority of Penal Code 647(a) arrests are of gay men. Furthermore, studies show that police are substantially more likely to arrest gay men for sexual activity in public than straight couples or lesbians.