Karen Ocamb

Palm Springs Gay Man Accuses County Sheriff of Discrimination

Filed By Karen Ocamb | January 13, 2012 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: anti-gay violence, Palm Springs, public sex, Riverside County Sheriff's Department, sex sting operation

Before the Williams Institute released its US Census data last summer, Palm Springs had been considered by many to be the "gayest" city in the nation. After August 18, Palm Springs officially fell to number three on that list with 115 gay couples per 1,000 households.

But there appears to be an antigay sentiment wafting through Palm Springs, too, some of which is overt and some – as expressed recently by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department – more a result of lazy ignorance.

According to a California Watch report last November, hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation rose by 25% in California - most dramatically in Palm Springs where antigay hate crimes jumped from three cases in 2009 to 14 in 2010. There is no official explanation for the uptick - but in 2009, the Palm Springs Police Department was under intense fire by the gay community for a sex sting operation during which Chief David Dominguez and other officers made insensitive remarks about gays.

"What a bunch of filthy mother (expletive)," Dominguez allegedly said [and later admitted saying] of the operation in a private parking lot public restrooms where 19 people were arrested. "You guys should get paid extra for this." Dominguez subsequently resigned. Interestingly, while there are three openly gay Palm Springs City Councilmembers, none of the city's 99 police officers are openly gay.

During the trial, many of the suspects were represented by Deputy Public Defender Roger Tansey, who accused the police of selective enforcement targeting gays. Last November, the LA Times reported: "Tansey said the sting was part of a pattern for the police department - every few years, they would "go out and round up the gay guys." Most of those arrested reached plea agreements to avoid being labeled sex offenders.

Now Tansey is representing Michael Lamar Salomonson, a 46 year old chronic meth user from Palm Springs who was arrested for burglarizing a Palm Springs home in December. Tansey told The Times that during plea negotiations with the Riverside County district attorney’s office, Salomonson would be sent to a detention center in Banning for a 180-day Residential Substance Abuse Program instead of going to jail for two years.

But the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, which oversees the jail system, has refused to enroll Salomonson in the rehab program because he's gay and therefore must be held in protective custody away from the general population. “It’s a wonderful program, but they won’t let him in,” Tansey told The Times. “I think it’s just easier for the jail to run it this way, but you can’t legally discriminate just because it’s easier for you.”

Tansey has filed a motion in Riverside County Superior Court to force the Sheriff’s Department to accept gay inmates in the program, with the majority of those enrolled being meth addicts.

Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jerry Gutierrez, who supervises the county jails told The Times that enrolling inmates in protective custody, – which the paper also notes includes those with medical disabilities, victims of jail assaults and inmates convicted of sexually assaulting children – could create a volatile situation.

“Our goal is to treat everyone who needs to be treated in our program, but there’s only so much that can go around,” Gutierrez said. “We only have so many resources.”

(Crossposted at LGBTPOV)

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