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Long Beach Police Department sued for discrimination against gay man in undercover sting operations

This story was updated with a new trial date.

LONG BEACH — Rory Moroney — whose arrest was dismissed in a historic and scathing ruling from a Superior Court judge who said Long Beach police illegally targeted gay men in undercover sting operation — has sued the department claiming his arrest was false and discriminatory and that the law enforcement agency conspired to deny him equal protection under the law.

Moroney seeks $500,000 for mental anguish and violation of federal law, reimbursement of attorney’s fees, and any other award the court might find proper, according to the lawsuit.

The federal case is scheduled for trial October 2 at the Central District Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

ALSO READ: Long Beach police discriminates against gay community with undercover sting operations, judge says

“This case is a search for justice,” attorney Albro Lundy said. “There’s a constitutional right to equal protection under the law, and there’s a constitutional right to equal enforcement under the law.”

CITY ATTORNEY RESPONDS

Long Beach police wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit and referred all questions to the City Attorney.

“We don’t agree with his contention that the police department violated anyone’s s equal protection,” Assistant City Attorney Monte Machit said. “The plaintiff’s contention is that gay men are being targeted. The phenomena of gay men meeting in bathrooms is unique among gay men.”

Machit also disputed the allegations because “Long Beach as a city has a very broad and diverse police office.

“The city also has a gay mayor,” he said.

Rory Moroney — whose arrest was dismissed in a historic and scathing ruling from a Superior Court judge who said Long Beach police illegally targeted gay men in undercover sting operation — has sued the department claiming his arrest was false and discriminatory and that the law enforcement agency conspired to deny him equal protection under the law. Photo: Trang Le/Q Voice News

CRIMINAL CASE DISMISSED

In the criminal matter, Long Beach Superior Court Judge Halim Dhanidina threw out the case against Moroney, 52, of Long Beach, who was arrested Oct. 15, 2014, at Recreation Park and charged with one count of misdemeanor indecent exposure and one count of lewd conduct. If Moroney had been convicted of indecent exposure, he would have been required to register as a sex offender for life.

EYE CONTACT, POSTURING

In court, Det. Raymond Arcala, an undercover decoy in the vice unit, said Moroney was arrested because he masturbated in one of the park restrooms. Moroney, however, said Arcala’s eye contact and posturing indicated he wasn’t offended by the advances and wanted to have sex.

DISCRIMINATORY ENFORCEMENT

In dismissing the case, Dhanidina criticized the police department’s practices and hostility toward the gay community. Dhanidina also agreed with the defense that the case was based on discriminatory enforcement and prosecution because the police department’s vice unit only targeted gay men in its lewd conduct investigations and sting operations. Dhanidina called it “invidious discrimination.”

ALSO READ: Public officials criticize Long Beach Pride Parade grand marshal who was falsely arrested by police

Defense attorneys Bruce Nickerson and Stephanie Loftin argued Moroney’s arrest was invalid because, according to jury instructions from a 1979 California case, lewd conduct is only a crime if, among other things, the defendant was in a public place and reasonably knew that his conduct would offend another person present.

ALSO READ: Attorney Bruce Nickerson has spent decades defending gay men falsely accused of lewd conduct

‘SANCTIONED BY POLICE’

“Essentially, it’s a false arrest,” Lundy said. “No crime was being committed until that decoy occurred. Then there was conduct the police believed was criminal. But the police engaged in behavior that indicated they were interested in a relationship.

“We believe this is a pattern and practice, and it’s sanctioned by the police department,” Lundy said.

CIVIL SUIT DEFENDANTS

The 14-page civil lawsuit was filed in April in the Central District Court in downtown Los Angeles. Nickerson initially filed a class action lawsuit, but it was dismissed by judge Dale Fisher due to a procedural error. Lundy was then brought in to handle the civil suit.

The City of Long Beach, Police Chief Robert Luna, and several officers from the department’s vice unit (Eric Hooker, Raymond Arcala, Eduardo De La Torre, and Paul LeBaron) are named as defendants.

LeBaron was the defendant in a false arrest lawsuit filed by Jose Fonseca in 2001. A jury awarded Fonseca $250,000 in damages, which was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002.

Police Chief Robert Luna, seen marching in the 2017 Long Beach Pride Parade, is named as a defendant in a lawsuit against the city and police department claiming discrimination against gay men in undercover sting operations. Photo: Justin Rudd.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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