Gay California tourist says police trumped up charge he was “selling” drunk friend
Mirroring 2008 arrests made by New York City vice cops in Manhattan porn shops, two California men were arrested on the street in Queens, one charged with prostitution and the second accused of being the other’s pimp.
“I never spoke to anybody, I didn’t do anything,” said Andres, 43, who asked that he be identified with a pseudonym.
Andres, 43, who is vacationing in the city with his partner of four years, was out with two friends, a 23-year-old and a 31-year-old, on November 21 in Jackson Heights. The two friends, who were in drag, were also here from California.
After roughly three hours of visiting three bars, Andres decided that his 23-year-old friend was “very drunk” and that they should return to the Brooklyn apartment where they were staying. Andres left his 23-year-old friend by his car while he went into a store for something to eat. When he came out two to three minutes later, he saw his friend walking with a white male who was about six feet tall and in his 30s.
“They were walking away so I started walking behind them,” Andres told Gay City News, explaining that he was concerned for his friend’s safety.
He could not hear their conversation nor did he speak to the white male, Andres said. After roughly two minutes, Andres and the 23-year-old were arrested.
The police charged that the 23-year-old agreed to perform oral sex on the undercover Queens vice cop, who was identified by the number CO140, in exchange for $100. When Andres asked why he was being arrested, police said, “You’re the pimp. You’re selling your friend,” Andres said.
They were transported by van to a nearby precinct, then to the Queens courthouse, where the 23-year-old pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was given 21 hours of community service.
Andres pleaded not guilty, but on December 16 he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and paid $120 in court fees. He owns a small business in California and opted to avoid the cost of a trial.
“It’s just that I live in Los Angeles, and all the travel and everything is going to cost me,” he said. Andres will also be applying for US citizenship and did not want to risk losing the case. He thought a large number of gay men — “all Latinos” — were arrested that night.
“It feels like they went into a gay bar and arrested everybody,” he said.
Paul Browne, who heads the police department’s press office, defended the arrests in an email.
“People can arrive in New York and still engage in criminal conduct,” he wrote. “If somebody visiting from California engages in shoplifting it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen because he elected to do so on a visit.”
In 2008, undercover vice cops from the Manhattan South Vice Enforcement Squad made a series of prostitution arrests in Manhattan porn shops. Of the men whose ages and addresses are known, most were in their 40s or 50s, unlikely ages for prostitutes, and four were from out of state, including a couple who traveled to the city from Europe.
Activists who objected to those earlier arrests were equally outraged by these recent ones.
“There is anger and frustration in the community,” wrote Brendan Fay, a longtime gay activist. “I am outraged that this style of policing is essentially about the criminalization of sexual relations between gay men. I had hoped that indeed such policing was history, yet 40 years after Stonewall can we walk down the streets of NY as gay men and flirt playfully without fear of being falsely arrested for prostitution?”
Fay and Andy Velez, also a longtime gay and AIDS activist, are members of a recently formed council that advises the police department on matters related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. That body has met twice, once in October and again in November.
“After a spotlight was thrown on the false arrests in Manhattan this past year, they seem to have stopped… in Manhattan,” Velez wrote. “It's obvious from this case that targeted arrests are still happening in the other boroughs. These are nightmarish attacks on the lives of innocent people. No matter how the mayor and the NYPD and others try to avoid acknowledging these outrages, they are reprehensible, indefensible, and must come to an end. Now.”