Gay Minn. Former Cop Claims Discrimination

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday June 16, 2010

Sean Lathrop was a "golden boy" as a rookie on the police force of St. Cloud, Minnesota, says his attorney, until his superiors realized that the young man was gay.

A June 15 article in the St. Cloud Times reports that a lawsuit against the city contends that Lathrop was systematically discriminated against by his superiors, told that no gay people live in St. Cloud--which is a suburban community outside of the "Twin Cities" of Minneapolis-St. Paul--and denied permission to attend a Pride event either in uniform or strictly as a private citizen.

The federal lawsuit, filed June 15, also deems as suspect an array of complaints lodged against Lathrop by the department that question his honesty and integrity. The suit seeks $75,000 each for punitive damages and compensation. Named in the suit are individual police officials and the city of St. Cloud itself.

Lathrop had earlier initiated a complaint process with the state's human rights commission, the article said, but gave up that complaint when the city countered. The department denies any discriminatory treatment of Lathrop.

"The city vehemently denies these allegations and we look forward to addressing the allegations fully in court," a statement written by Sgt. Marty Sayre, of the police department, reads. "The city treated Mr. Lathrop fairly and nondiscriminatorily throughout his employment."

The lawsuit alleges otherwise, claiming that after a bright start, Lathrop's career with the department abruptly dimmed when the officer was invited to participate at a community outreach booth at a Pride event in Minneapolis-St. Paul. That invitation, the suit alleges, alerted Lathrop's superiors to his sexual orientation, and he became a target as a result.

The letter inviting Lathrop to the Pride event was sent to Police Chief Dennis Ballantine, who is one of the individuals named in the suit. According to the suit, Ballantine told Lathrop that, "there are no gay people in St. Cloud," the article reported. The suit says that following this, Lathrop was subjected to anti-gay remarks, the loss of professional responsibilities and opportunities, and a number of complaints from within the department; five complaints in all came from within the department. Two complaints against Lathrop were also lodged from the community, the article noted.

In Sacramento Suburb, An Anti-Gay Police Culture?

Allegations of anti-gay conditions at the police department of a Sacramento suburb were in the news this past April. That case, as in St. Cloud, resulted in a lawsuit, which alleged that the department had allowed an entrenched anti-gay culture to flourish. Other allegations in that suit said that an officer committed an act of sexual harassment against a female civilian and was never suitably punished for it.

A March 2 article in local newspaper the Press Tribune said that the current leadership at the Roseville Police Department has allegedly fostered an anti-gay climate, with a gay officer being described with an anti-gay slur by a fellow officer. Subsequent articles in the same publication described how a police captain allegedly used a numerical code understood to refer to gays as the combination to an electronically locked gate. The news articles also painted a picture of a police force demoralized by what some officers see as a lapse of leadership and judgment at the top.

A local lesbian resident, Lori Ennis, has worked with the department before, the article said, but she spoke out about alleged incidents of anti-gay harassment within the department, saying, "Do they understand what a hate crime is and would they look at it from a hate crime perspective?" Ennis said.

Ennis also worried about the purported attitude toward gays among the department's officers. The suit claims that officers in the department regard gays as "deviants" who might prey on children. Said Ennis, "Pedophiles are not gay people." Ennis cited statistics, which indicated that well over 90% of pedophiles identify as heterosexual.

The article reported that one officer, Darin DeFreece, was perceived by a colleague to be gay. The colleague then allegedly counseled DeFreece not to serve as a liaison to the local Boy Scout troop, because to do so would bring him into contact with male youths. "Whether it is perceived or real it is still discrimination and it's intolerance," Ennis told the media.

One plaintiff in the suit, Ken Marler, was allegedly the subject of anti-gay sentiment from the start, when a Roseville officer, Kelby Newton, announced that the department was about to "get... a faggot," meaning Marler, who was transferring into the department. The suit says that Marler was the target of harassment by other Roseville officers.

DeFreece is also a plaintiff, but he told the media that anti-gay sentiment did not characterize the police force as a whole. Indeed, several years ago a survey of the department's officers revealed that many of them had concerns and reservations about some of the attitudes they were seeing in their fellow officers, an April 7 follow-up article in the same publication reported.

It was in the survey that the numerical code--which was said to be a coded anti-gay comment--for the gate lock was mentioned, when one officer who answered the survey wrote that one of the department's leaders, Capt. Stan Lumsden, "does not think through his decisions. A key example is his choice for the new gate code 1369." That code, and its alleged meaning--which one officer said referred to "unlucky [gays]"--were also specified in the suit as evidence of an entrenched anti-gay culture among some of the department's officers.

Almost a dozen survey respondents also cited what they saw as an act of sexual harassment carried out by a Roseville officer against a female civilian, the girlfriend of one of the department's officers. The article said that the officer in question, Jason Bosworth, had slapped the woman on the hindquarters, and that while he did face some disciplinary acting, no demotion or lasting consequence seemed to result, with Bosworth going on to assume leadership roles in the department.

"The case involving Jason Bosworth, in my opinion, was unacceptable," one officer wrote in the survey. "How could you possibly allow a sergeant, a so called leader of our department, to sexually assault another officer's girlfriend and he is still the Field Training Officer sergeant? At a minimum he should be removed of all special assignments."

"When an employee commits, what I believe to be a crime while on duty, I expect the chief to execute swift and fair justice," wrote another officer., going on to add that in the end, "there was no visible impact on the offender. The offender actually appeared smug after the incident as to say, 'The chief said it was OK.' "

"The result of that issue has left many of the troops with the feeling that supervisors are untouchable and can act out with impunity," wrote a third officer.

But in another precinct, a transgender police offer received only support from her superiors. Sgt. Julia Oliver of the Houston police transitioned at age 59, a Feb. 18, 2009, story at Austen News Channel KVUE said, and though it led to an estrangement with her children, the officer lost none of her standing on the force.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.