The sound of traffic on I-8 created a low and muffled roar in the otherwise quiet park. It was amplified by the funnel shape of Palm Canyon, just below the Presidio, and played tricks with sound. It was dark except for the single exterior light on the bathroom as the canyon faded off into inky darkness.
I remembered as a child family picnics in the canyon and running up and down the trails with my cousins or friends, the foliage forming tunnels within which we would hide and get “lost” in our imaginary adventures. Our parents never worried about us. In fact the canyon was a big natural playground which slowly sapped our energy preparing us for peaceful slumber at home later; all the while the grown-ups enjoyed the late afternoon and early evening, a glass of wine or beer, and a picnic dinner.
But as with all things, that time had passed. Instead of children running along the trails, closeted gay men now roamed looking for secret hook ups in the heavy brush and the bathroom at the canyon’s entrance. Slowly but surely, the absence of families had turned the canyon into an open air marketplace of unrestrained homosexual activity. The community’s tolerance had come to end, however, when a recent field trip of third and fourth graders went to use the bathroom midday and found several men engaged in a number of sexual behaviors. Clearly, this is not what the San Diego School District had intended when it developed the program regarding San Diego’s history.
And so when outrage turns to action, the public of course blames law enforcement for the lack of whatever and the Chief’s Office issues a memorandum chiding the local command for letting something like this get so out of hand. Today it was homosexual activity in the park, tomorrow it will be hookers on El Cajon Blvd., and the day after, glass containers on the beach. We used to call it enforcement du jour. Everything a knee jerk response to public outcry … seems things never change.
The vice sergeant had noticed me in the academy a few months earlier, and told me he had plans for me. In the late 70s, I still had a gentle face and that famous Southern California surfer look. His plans were to use me as bait in prostitution and sex solicitation details. On one Friday evening, in an hour alone, I was propositioned six times downtown. I would be solicited, sex for money, I would decline and scratch my head (the secret signal I had been solicited) and the woman or transvestite would be picked up several blocks away, never knowing until they appeared in court I was the object of their demise.
Our detail in Palm Canyon was different. Instead of observation by a team, we worked in pairs. One of us sat in the car while the other hung out. And instead of a head scratch and an arrest several blocks way, we made the arrest after the elements of the crime were complete; in this case, a solicitation for sex in a public place and in or near a public restroom.
I had worked a similar detail before, and found those who I arrested really did not want to be arrested and would put up a fight. Many of the men were married, and this was their secret life. But for an arrest, they could live this life with impunity. It was the late 70s and AIDS had yet to rear its ugly, deadly head. So understandably, a man living a secret life would put up a fight in a situation which could destroy his outward straight persona―homosexuality still a stigma. I dressed accordingly; Levis, t-shirt under a flannel shirt, an old down vest and running shoes. I liked the vest because I could keep “cop stuff” in the pockets. I had three days growth of a beard and was hung over like a motherfucker … vice cops drink a bunch.
My partner for the evening was Mike. He was a gay wet dream of the day. Tall, strong features, dark hair and moustache. He looked a bit like Tom Selleck. Unfortunately, Mike was new to the detail and was not the sharpest tool I had run into. He had not grasped the concept of park detail. He was in a white shirt and pants, with a white tennis sweater over his shoulders tied in the front. If I was bait, he was chum.
On the witness stand, police officers will deny under torture that they have a quota to meet. That has been ruled unconstitutional. If you ask, however, they will admit they must engage in “self-initiated activity,” which most will glibly define as being able to make as many arrests or write as many tickets as they want … but not as few as they want. Our self-initiated quota for the evening was two arrests per officer. We already had one a piece, so two more and we had the rest of the night off.
It was my turn to hang out by the bathroom. Anything but seductive, I stood under the only exterior light blanching white a small circle on the ground below. Things had slowed down. I had just finished my third Camel, crushing the ash-box under foot and field stripping the remainder before slipping it into my vest pocket. I looked up just as he passed by, staring at me with a strange intense look. He was a big guy, buffed out when buffed out was not vogue. He was easily a head taller than me and actually pretty intimidating looking.
Most of the general public believes, wrongly, if a police officer speaks first in a “sting” type situation, the arrest will go out the window because it’s entrapment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Imagine a narcotics officer, sitting Buddha like, waiting for someone to approach him to either buy or sell drugs. Entrapment, regardless of your feelings about law enforcement, happens very rarely.
In this sort of detail, I was used to closing the deal in about five minutes. The Big Guy walked back and forth, checking me out with that sort of odd stare for almost twenty minutes. Finally, I said, “Hello,” as he passed by for the umpteenth time. Apparently that was enough to break the ice and he sidled up to me like a schoolgirl just asked to the dance. But we were no way near done.
Typically, I would be asked what I was into, was I a top or bottom, or even more direct, did I want my ass fucked. The Big Guy, however, was cautious and coy. It was as if I was going through a job interview; where was I from, how long I had been in town, did I work, did I have a place to stay. I had a story line I had developed when I worked narcotics details, and I went with that. Finally, after fifteen minutes, he asked, “Do you mess around?” Not enough, but a start. We vice guys were trained to use “come on lines.” Innocuous statements, but in a sexual context would encourage the other to ask further. Mine was, “I don’t like things that hurt.”
Apparently that was enough. The Big Guy excitedly blurted, “Can I suck your cock?” Finally, solicitation for sex in public, and by a public bathroom; he hit a double with one line. I reached into my vest pocket and pulled out my badge and put it right in his face, declining his offer and informing him he was under arrest. Ostensibly, the badge in the face was to hopefully keep the suspect from resisting, and if he did, an additional charge of resisting or battery on a police officer would be added. My badge had no such magic charms and the Big Guy reared back to take a swing with his beefy fist right at my head. I ducked, and came up with my side arm pointed at his head … I was in fear of imminent injury. He took one look at the pistol and fainted. I mean, Scarlet O’Hara, hand to the forehead, I got the vapors, fainted dead away. That was a first for me, but it made handcuffing him all that much easier.
Where was my back-up? Well, I had been out there so long, Mike was taking a snooze in our ride. He saw nothing leading up to the arrest, but woke up just in time to see a body at my feet and a gun in my hand. He jumped out of the car and began running across the dark park. I gave him the hand signal I was “OK.” He slowed down enough for another guy to jump out from behind a bush and ask him for anal sex … to enhance the deal, he even had a condom. So while Mike was arresting his surprise offer, I got the Big Guy awake and walked to the car where he went catatonic.
Fast forward several months later. My bride-to-be (now ex-wife) wanted to see me see testify in court. I had several subpoenas for one day, so we decided to make a day of it, paying for our marriage license at the clerk’s office during the lunch break. The only case which went to trial that day was People of the State of California v. the Big Guy. And he was represented by two gay activist attorneys. And it was the female judge’s first day on the bench. Shakespeare couldn’t have put together the plot line any better.
Under oath, I testified what had led up to the arrest.
“And then what did he say, Officer,” inquired the prosecutor.
“He asked me if I messed around.” I answered.
“Did you say anything?”
“I used my come-on line”
“What was that?”
Leaning forward into the witness box microphone, I replied in a low voice, “I don’t like things that hurt.”
A muffled “snerk” from the judge and giggle from my bride-to-be.
“What happened then, Officer?”
I turned to the judge with a look that said, “I really don’t want to say this” and replied, “He said, ‘Can I suck your cock.’”
A gasp and look of disdain at the defendant from the judge and louder giggle from my bride-to-be. It was a glaring example of justice. Glares to all by the attorneys. Glares by me at the attorneys who glared at my bride-to-be.
Then it was the Big Guy’s turn. He testified he found me very attractive and still did (more giggles, more glares) and while he admitted to asking to perform oral sex on me, he had no intention of doing it there. He was going to take me to his home. He just fainted before he had a chance to ask me.
His counsel argued that since the arrest, the California Supreme Court had interpreted the particular law to mean anyone who solicited for sex to occur in a public place was guilty of a misdemeanor, not the mere solicitation in public. Apparently, the way the law was written meant all those guys at the singles bars with their unbuttoned shirts and medallions crudely soliciting the ladies could now do so (or continue to do so) without fear of arrest.
With no intent by Big Guy, the case was dismissed.
Three weeks later while on uniformed patrol, I found him in the Palm Canyon bathroom, on his knees performing oral sex on another guy. The second time the arrest stuck.