A Los Angeles County judge on Friday strongly criticized the Long Beach Police Department's practice of conducting sting operations against gay men cruising for companionship, saying the policy was "indicative of animus toward homosexuals."
In a closely watched case, Superior Court Judge Halim Dhanidina made the remarks in Long Beach while invalidating the arrest of Rory Moroney for lewd conduct and indecent exposure.
Moroney was arrested in a bathroom at Recreation Park in October 2014 after allegedly exposing himself to an undercover Long Beach police detective, said Bruce Nickerson, the man's attorney.
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Moroney began sobbing as soon as the judge finished reading his decision.
"It was really hard to ... come out and be the voice, but I had to do it because I believe that Long Beach is discriminating against gay men," he said outside of court.
A Long Beach police detective seated in the courtroom simply shook his head.
A city prosecutor and the detective declined to comment after the hearing. It was unclear if there would be an appeal.
Moroney, 50, of Long Beach, would have been required to register as a sex offender if convicted.
Dhanidina said a review of evidence showed that Long Beach's vice unit engaged in discriminatory practices because the squad uses only male officers as undercover decoys in lewd conduct stings. Several officers who testified at an evidentiary hearing earlier this month all said they had a arrested only male suspects for lewd conduct in their time working as vice officers, according to the judge.
Dhanidina rejected prosecutors' arguments that Long Beach based its policing tactics on citizen complaints about lewd conduct, saying that the agency provided little to no evidence of citizen complaints about such conduct at men's public restrooms where the bulk of the stings took place.
The department "intentionally targeted men who engaged in homosexual sex," the judge said.
Moroney was arrested in a restroom known to be a hot spot for "gay cruising," Nickerson said. Nickerson argued, and the judge agreed, that Long Beach's vice officers routinely send flirtatious signals to suspects and induced the crimes for which they later arrested men like Moroney.
"It appears that the presence and tactics of the decoy officers actually caused the crimes to occur," Dhanidina said.
Long Beach police said they would comment on the ruling later in about 24 hrs.