BATON ROUGE, LA (FOX44) — The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office is trying to smooth over relations with the LGBT community, after allegations that deputies targeted gay men in undercover sting operations.
"Baton Rouge has a very high violent crime rate, there's lots of other things going on. So choosing to put resources towards this does suggest this is a group the sheriff's office wanted to target," said Matt Patterson with the Capital City Alliance.
Since 2011 deputies arrested at least a dozen homosexual men for talking to undercover officers at Manchac Park. The men were allegedly caught on tape discussing and arranging with undercover deputies to meet up later at their private residences for sex. Deputies than arrested the men for ‘Crimes against Nature’, a statute ruled unconstitutional 10 years ago.
"Clearly everyone should know from 10 years ago that this law was not enforceable," explained John Delgado, a councilman and lawyer.
Delgado said he is outraged by what the sheriff's office is doing and plans to get more information about the arrests.
"I think it's hurtful to a large segment of our population. But more importantly it makes Baton Rouge as a city, look bad. I think the sheriff owes the people who were arrested an apology, that segment of the population an apology and the people of Baton Rouge an apology," said Delgado.
“I want to apologize on behalf of our agency that the way these park investigations were handled made it appear that we were targeting the gay community. That was not our intent. I also apologize to anyone that was unintentionally harmed or offended by the actions of our investigations. Our agency made mistakes; we will learn from them; and we will take measures to ensure it does not happen again,” said Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, in a prepared statement released Monday.
Now, local gay rights advocates say they are hoping to work with the sheriff's department to move forward.
“It seems pretty clear that there are some policies that need updating. We obviously need to make sure that whatever process lead to these arrests doesn't get repeated. We’re also hoping to establish an LGBT liaison in the sheriff's office," said Patterson.
The Sheriff has agreed to sit down with CCA representatives and find a way to move forward. He has also told his deputies to stop enforcing the statute immediately.
LGBT advocates have said they do appreciate the apology, but what they really want is an end to these arrests.
"At the end of the day, 12 people were arrested for not committing a crime. I don't know if there's anything that can necessarily make up for that. We can definitely make sure that doesn't happen again," explained Patterson.
The ACLU of Louisiana has also issued a statement condemning the actions of the Sheriff’s Office, and have said they are interested in filing a suit. They urge anyone who has suffered from the statute to contact them immediately.