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Amnesty International report critiques cops’ handling of LGBT community

Editor’s Note: As a matter of disclosure, Amnesty International referred to several Current articles in the Stonewalled report.
A white, transgendered woman reportedly worked for a motel where her shift ended at 3 a.m. In four or five instances, San Antonio police reportedly stopped her on the way home on the assumption she was a prostitute. Finally, her employers contacted police to explain she needed to walk home after work. Police no longer stopped her.

Al Everton, 74, died two weeks after he was beat on the head with a baseball bat. Before he died, he told his partner, friends, and police that his attacker was a neighbor who called him a “fucking faggot” before striking him. SAPD closed the case. His assailant has never been arrested. `See “Love hurts,” February 14-20, 2002.`

These stories are among dozens of reports documented in a recent Amnesty International report about the contentious relationship between San Antonio’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered communities and local police departments.

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The 149-page Stonewalled analyzes alleged police misconduct toward and abuse of LGBT people in four cities Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and San Antonio and makes recommendations to police departments about complying with international human-rights law.

Amnesty International chose cities based on their population size, activism, and history of police misconduct.

“We wanted a snapshot of America,” said Suha Dabbouseh, field organizer for Amnesty International’s southern region. “San Antonio wasn’t one of the worst cities. It’s a bit different ethnically and is a Southern city.”

Yet, not being among the worst cities for LGBT people is hardly a distinction worth posting on the Convention and Visitors Bureau website. In the late ’90s through 2003, San Antonio Park Police repeatedly came under fire for allegedly entrapping gay men in park bathrooms `See “Homo Patrol: Are San Antonio Rangers the Real Perverts in the Park?” January 27-February 4, 2000`. In addition, Stonewalled alleges that City police have inappropriately groped transgendered people and targeted them as sex workers, and that other members of the LGBT community have been verbally or physically abused in the county lockup. In other instances, the report says, police allegedly have been reluctant to investigate crimes against the LGBT community.

The report concludes that there has been a lack of sensitivity and diversity training within police departments. Anonymous complaints about officers are not processed, Dabbouseh noted, and to file a complaint, a person must go to the Internal Affairs department, sign it, and have it notarized. “This inhibits people from filing,” she said.

Jhery Hallman, volunteer executive assistant to the director at the Diversity Center, says the relationship between the LGBT community and city police has improved since the addition of an LGBT liaison at SAPD, which was among Amnesty International’s recommendations in the report. “Before the liaison, it was hard to get somebody on the line when domestic violence happened,” says Hallman. “And there is more overall understanding on both sides.”

While Captain Larry Birney, the LGBT liaison, said he agrees with the report’s recommendations, he pointed out that since 2003, when the study ended, SAPD “has made great strides in reaching out,” to the LGBT community. “A lot of what we do isn’t public,” said Birney, who was appointed as LGBT liaison a year ago. “The Diversity Center will call me and say they have had problems around San Antonio College, and we’ll quietly solve the problem without making a big deal about it.”

Stonewalled criticizes SAPD for its limited diversity and sensitivity training. SAPD reported to Amnesty International that it conducts training on same-sex domestic violence and hate crimes, but none on transgender individuals, sexual assaults of LGBT people, or LGBT sex workers. “Much of the training deals with AIDS,” said Dabbouseh, even though, according to Centers for Disease Control, the greatest increase in AIDS cases is occurring among heterosexuals and women ages 18-25.

Birney added that SAPD also plans to reconsider its search policy so that female officers will be assigned to search transgendered women; the same procedures will apply to male officers and transgendered men.

Relations with the Park Police, said Hallman, have not significantly improved. “From what I’ve gathered, not much has changed.”

Yet, Chief Steven Baum contended that his department has expanded its pool of officers who are assigned to go undercover in the parks, presumably to dispel rumors that only police eager to entrap gay men were signing up to do so.

Baum said park police also have begun video- and audio-taping public- indecency busts “so we can show we didn’t entice anyone. It gives us more credibility.”

The report quotes local civil attorney Andrew Thomas as saying heterosexuals generally aren’t arrested for having sex in parks. According to Park Police monthly activity reports through 2003, 43 men were arrested, compared with eight heterosexual couples for sexual conduct in city parks. Yet, Baum said his officers will arrest anyone hooking up in public. “We’re trying to eradicate sex acts in the park.”

Baum characterized Stonewalled as “as fair as any report” based on personal interviews, but took issue with its anecdotal nature.

Amnesty International researchers conducted 170 interviews, plus confidential on-line surveys, and follow-up phone conversations with members of the LGBT community, activists, and police. Amnesty International also consulted local hate-crime statutes and media reports.

Dabbouseh explained that SAPD might not be able to reconcile the personal accounts documented in Stonewalled with police reports because “in a traumatic event, the person might get the date wrong,” or misidentify the police department responsible for the alleged misconduct.

At the end of the report, Amnesty International makes many recommendations to police including greater accountability for actions of their officers, more transparency in internal investigations of alleged misconduct, protection of complainants against police retaliation, independent oversight commissions to review complaints and departmental policy, periodic diversity and sensitivity training for officers of all ranks, and strict protocol for and supervision of the use of undercover officers.

There are indications that the SAPD culture is changing. Earlier this year, a SAPD officer was fired, arrested, and charged with aggravated sexual assault after he allegedly raped a transgendered woman. The case has not gone to trial.

On September 21, the day the report was released, SAPD Chief Albert Ortiz signed an Amnesty International pledge in which he made several guarantees:

his department will send a clear message to all officers that abuse and ill treatment of LGBT people will not be tolerated

all allegations and reports of police abuse and misconduct will be investigated impartially and officers who are found responsible will be held accountable

LGBT individuals will be safe while in detention

SAPD will review the findings and recommendations of the Amnesty International report with the intent of making any necessary changes in police or procedures

“We will continue to break down the fear barrier,” Birney said. “This isn’t the police department of yesterday.”

To read a copy of the report go to http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR511222005

By Lisa Sorg


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