BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Attorney Norm Kent's South Florida Gay News has published a cover story about hundreds of gay men arrested in Palm Beach County parks between 2005 and 2010.
A Lust to Bust, written by SFGN editor-in-chief Jason Parsley, details how Palm Beach Sheriff's detectives Peter Lazar (now retired) and Van Garner worked a parks detail, according to publisher Kent.
"It is quite comprehensive," Kent says. "Had to read through 500 police reports over a five year period."
The SFGN investigation began after Kent's law office partner, attorney Russell Cormican -- representing several of the arrested gay men -- deposed Lazar.
"The detective bragged, 'Are you kidding?' This is all I do. I do lewd acts in cars. I made over 600 arrests," Kent said. "I don't do breaks ins. I don't do burglaries. I just go after sex in parks. I go from park to park."
The cops would usually dress in shorts and tank tops, "hitting on a gay guy in a restroom or a park bench or a car," Kent said. "Asking what he liked, what he was into. Would he like to go home with him or something? His typical line was, 'Let me see what you've got.''
"The moment a gay man would expose his sex organ, he'd make an arrest," Kent said.
Teri Barbera, a spokeswoman for the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office, says the SFGN story is based on court records and unnamed sources. The newspaper used pseudonyms for several of the men arrested.
The sheriff's office stationed Lazar, Garner and about 20 other deputies on parks detail after complaints were made about public sex, Barbera said.
"We were responding to an ongoing problem," Barbera said. "We enforce the laws, we do not make them."
Recently, the sheriff's office disbanded the unit. "Due to budget restraints, we do not have a parks division," she said."We have not had deputies assigned to the parks in a year."
Barbera sent a written statement to SFGN:
"In 2005, PBC Parks & Recreation contacted PBSO requesting assistance with illegal sexual activity occurring in PBC park bathrooms and nature trails. PBSO began to enforce ALL illegal sexual activity in public bathrooms, which were mainly located next to playground areas. This enforcement resulted in numerous arrests over the last few years. The individuals arrested were issued a “notice to appear” in court for the charge of Exposure of Sexual Organs."
The complete statement can be read in its entirety on the newspaper's website. The sheriff did not return calls to SFGN, Kent said.
"How insulting," Kent said. "We did a two-year investigation that cost me over $2,500 in public-records requests, go through 500 actual police reports, and then they refused to talk to me. They issued a stupid press release."