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Lambda Legal discrimination case resolved, Johnson City Police Department updates policies and adds training

(JOHNSON CITY, TN) Lambda Legal yesterday announced the resolution of a lawsuit against the Johnson City Police Department in Tennessee. On October 1, 2007, the Department issued a press release that included photos of 40 men arrested in a public sex sting operation. The local news ran the story along with pictures and addresses of the men involved.

According to an October 18, 2008 report by Q-notes, Lambda Legal asserted the media attention possibly contributed to the suicide of one man less than 24 hours after charges against him were announced and his name, photo and home address appeared in local media. Arrestee Jerry McCloud, 55, of Newland, N.C., was found dead in his home around 10 a.m. on Oct. 2, 2007.

Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit asserting that it is improper and discriminatory to single out certain groups of people for increased public attention by publicizing their arrest photographs. Lambda Legal reviewed hundreds of news releases issued by the JCPD in the year leading up to the October 1, 2007 release and found that no other release pertaining to arrests was accompanied by photos.

The suit was filed on behalf of Kenneth Giles, who lost his job as a result. Giles attributed his termination to the enhanced publicity surrounding his arrest.

"We applaud Chief Lowry's decision to use this dispute to examine, clarify, and update the police department's policies, practices, and training programs," said Greg Nevins, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office. "We believe these actions will not only help avoid future disputes like this one, but also lay the groundwork for improved relations between the police department and the LGBT community. These measures show a commitment to treating all people equally. This is a win-win situation for everyone."

Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry denied any discriminatory motive, stating that the JCPD's media efforts related to the sting operation served the rational goal of dissuading others from illegal conduct.

“Even so,” said Lowry, “irrespective of my views on the merits of the lawsuit, the residents of Johnson City are best served by the Department's adopting a nondiscrimination policy that conforms to the guarantees of equal protection in the U.S. Constitution and updating the JCPD media policy to address the release of arrestee photographs.”