Calif. Man Sues City for False Arrest in Bathroom Gay Sex Sting
A Los Angeles man is suing the city of Manhattan Beach, located in southwestern LA County, for falsely arresting him for looking for gay sex in a bathroom sting and publicly humiliating him by posting his mug shot on the city's website, CBS Los Angeles reports.
Charles Samuel Couch, 22, is suing the city's police chief and five detectives, a lawsuit filed in federal court says.
Manhattan Beach police arrested 17 other men during the sting on March 9, 2012. Couch says he is an innocent victim and was not in the beach bathroom looking to hookup with other guys but was helping a boy with special needs. He told local news station KCAL9 that his arrest "was all very terrifying."
According to Couch, he was helping a 14-year-old boy with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes low muscle tone, short stature, incomplete sexual development, cognitive disabilities and other issues. The lawsuit identifies the teen as "D.K." and says Couch waited for him to finish using the bathroom when undercover detective John Nasori went into the stall next to D.K. The teen said he was being stared at through a hole in the stall.
"The child bursts from the stall, runs up to my client and says 'There's a man looking at me,'" Bruce Nickerson, Couch's lawyer, told CBS Los Angeles.
Couch claims the undercover detective followed him and detained him with four other officers who were not wearing police uniforms. He added he was "knocked to the ground, I had my hands put behind my back. I had some men put their knees on the back of my knees so I couldn't move my legs. They had me in a choke hold to subdue me."
Couch was then taken to jail for questioning and was accused of looking to have sex in a public area with other men and child endangerment. But after authorities called D.K.'s parents and confirmed the teen did have special needs, Couch says he was released and police did not file any charges against him.
"His parents did vouch for me, they told police I was his caregiver and there was absolutely nothing wrong going on in this situation," Couch said. "And still, police continued to badger me. They wouldn't take any other answers."
The embarrassment didn't stop there, Couch says. He told CBS Los Angeles that a few months later he was "shocked and horrified" that his photo was published on the website for the Daily Breeze, a daily newspaper for South Bay cities in Los Angeles.
"I've been working with special needs kids for several years and I've built very close relationships with the parents. So to have someone make these type of allegations it just does a huge blow to your character," Couch said. He added that police also sent him a notice of an outstanding warrant for resisting, obstructing or delaying a police officer.
Nickerson says that the sting violated the law.
"The message is this if you want to conduct an undercover sting operation, make it comply with the law," he said.
Couch, who now attends school in Pennsylvania, says the incident delayed his college application process and that his name and mug shot are still online.