Police to finally end undercover bathroom stings after historic Port Authority settlement

Plainclothes police officers will no longer conduct stings in New York bus terminal toilets to falsely accuse queer men and gender non-conforming people of ‘public lewdness’.

The Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) has a long history of patrolling New York’s main bus terminal, Port Authority, and arresting people perceived as LGBTQ+ on false public lewdness charges.

It is unclear when the stings date back to, but in 2005 the PAPD were found liable for false lewdness arrests in the Martinez v Port Authority case.

Following a lawsuit brought by those arrested as a result of the stings, a legal settlement announced on 1 June has seen police agree to cease patrols and provide its new recruits with LGBTQ+ training, according to NBC New York.

The two named plaintiffs, Cornell Holden and Miguel Mejia, were arrested in 2014 after having a plainclothes officer stand in the urinal next to them before falsely accusing them of masturbating in public. Both joined the federal lawsuit headed up by The Legal Aid Society and Winston & Strawn LLP in 2017 and were eventually cleared of the charges.

Attorneys at Legal Aid said that they noticed “discriminatory pattern of PAPD false arrests for public lewdness based on the actual or perceived sexual orientation of the person arrested” in 2013, prompting the launch of the lawsuit in 2017.

Now that the PAPD has agreed to put a stop to the archaic and discriminatory stings, it will pay $15,000 in damages to Holden and $25,000 to Mejia. Port Authority also agreed to introduce single-stall, gender-neutral toilets at the bus terminal. 

“This kind of blatant homophobia has no place in policing, and the reforms achieved in this lawsuit aim to safeguard against future abuses like the ones experienced and challenged by Mr Holden and Mr Mejia”, said Molly Griffard, an attorney for The Legal Aid Society, on Twitter following the settlement. 

After the announcement, Mejia said in a statement: “I’m proud of the difference we’ve made by standing up against the PAPD’s bias-based policing”.

“As a commuter who passes through Port Authority facilities on a daily basis, I will feel safer knowing that the reforms we fought for have been put in place, making it so that people like me aren’t arrested just because of who we are or what we look like.”