South Carolina’s Greenville Country Sheriff’s Office has been criticized for entrapping and then arresting gay men and others for behaviors which are not illegal.
The American Civil Liberties Union found multiple cases where undercover sheriffs had sought to entrap people into engaging in illegal sexual activity including sex in public and prostitution, but then arrested then anyway when this failed.
Undercover Greenville county officers approached people parked in their cars, sitting on their own porches or simply walking down the street and asked them to engage in illegal sexual activities, but then arrested them when they either declined or suggested engaging in legal private sexual acts instead.
The arrests were part of a series of sting operations targeting sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Officers arrested people for simply being in places known to be frequented by sex workers, for being ‘known prostitutes’ or for merely saying they’d ‘think about it’ when asked to have sex for money or in public.
One officer arrested a gay man for touching him after the officer had asked him for oral sex.
Another woman was charged with assault and battery after she touched the thigh of an officer who had picked her up in his car and then offered to pay her for sex despite indicating her she would rather have sex for free in a private location.
‘The people who have been arrested in these stings are being humiliated and harassed for no lawful reason,’ said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project.
‘Innocent people should not be trapped for engaging in their legal right to ask to have sex in private with another adult. These sorts of decoy operations are an expensive and wasteful use of taxpayer dollars, and they are far less effective than other law enforcement tools in stopping actual illegal activities from occurring.’
‘Consenting adults should not be arrested for acts that don’t break any laws,’ said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina.
‘These sting operations enable officers to make as many arrests as possible, while they do nothing to stop actual criminal activity from occurring.’
The ACLU have written to both the Greenville Country Sheriff’s Office and the South Carolina state solicitor’s office to deplore the tactics.