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Park Police arrest three men for public lewdness in one week
QSanAntonio, September 25, 2014

Last week was a busy one for San Antonio's Park Police if news reports are any indication. Three men were arrested in local parks for lewdness and soliciting sex from undercover cops.

On Tuesday, September 17, police arrested a Catholic priest, Alberto Torres Trevino, who was charged with indecent exposure by an undercover officer in Olmos Park. According to the police report, after asking the cop what he liked to do, Trevino exposed himself and touched the policeman inappropriately.

On Thursday, a City Parks employee, Dennis Higgins, was arrested in Espada Park after exposing himself to an undercover officer. According to the police report, Higgins approached the plain-clothed officer to solicit oral sex.

Meanwhile, on the same day in another part of town, police arrested Jesus Ramon, an employee of Cornerstone Christian Schools, for exposing himself to an undercover officer at John James Park on Rittiman Road.

"We've got park police officers, whether you see them or not, they are there and they are patrolling actively for any type of criminal activities so I want people to know the parks are secure and safe," SAPD Sgt. Javier Salazar told KENS-5 after one of the arrests.

"It's not about hunting down any particular group of people, it's about behavior in public places," Police Chief William McManus said in a recent interview with Sam Sanchez of Out In SA. "It's not about whose doing it but it's about where they're doing it, which is a public place."

McManus confirmed that Park Police, which operate as a stand alone unit of the SAPD under McManus' leadership, do not require their cadets to have LGBT sensitivity training even though it's required for SAPD cadets. However, McManus said it would be "very easy" to include them in those the classes.

A past history of arrest and entrapment

In years past, the Park Police became notorious for their raids on local parks where they arrested gay men, sometimes unjustly, for public sex. Some of those arrested reported being beaten and kicked and otherwise roughed up by arresting officers.

In 2005, Amnesty International released a report criticizing the treatment of LGBT citizens by the SAPD, the Bexar County Jail and the Park Police. Of the three law enforcement agencies cited in the report, the Park Police were the most aggressive in their treatment of those arrested.

As a result of the Amnesty International report, then-Police Chief Albert Ortiz appointed the first SAPD liaison to the LGBT community, Captain Larry Birney.

In May of 2006, Birney spoke to a meeting of the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio where he said the SAPD was "working diligently to get the message out" to all local policing agencies that abuse of LGBT citizens would not be tolerated. One month later, newly-hired Police Chief William McManus told the Stonewall Democrats that he did not endorse gay witch hunts or the entrapment of gay men by undercover police.

In the years immediately following the Amnesty International revelations, arrests of gay men in parks dropped. According to Park Police statistics published on July 24, 2008 in the San Antonio Express-News, there were 125 arrests in 2005 for public lewdness and indecent exposure. In 2006, that number dropped to 56 and in 2007 the number was 52.

On February 1, 2009, the Park Police, which since 1955 operated as part of the parks department, was placed under the direction of the San Antonio Police Department and the leadership of Chief McManus. Since that time, arrests of gay men in parks have continued but at a slower pace and with less reports of physical abuse of those arrested.

In the years since 2009, QSanAntonio has been contacted by two men who were arrested by Park Police for lewdness at different times. One of those men, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he was tricked by an undercover officer into requesting sex. The other said he was tackled to the ground by officers prior to his 2010 arrest in Acequia Park on Mission Parkway.