Two New York men have filed a proposed class action lawsuit that alleges The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, its police department (PAPD), and three named individuals committed and continue to commit constitutional rights violations by unlawfully targeting for arrest men who officers perceive to be homosexual and/or gender non-conforming who use Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) bathrooms.
“The Gay Whisperer” Named Among the Defendants
The complaint, which was filed in the Southern District of New York, specifically lists the following individuals – one of whom is allegedly referred to as “the gay whisperer” by fellow officers – and entities as defendants in the case:
- The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – which is responsible for patrolling the Lincoln and Holland interstate crossings, as well as the Bayonne, George Washington, and Goethals Bridges; the Outerbridge Crossing; Newark, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports; Port Authority Bus Terminal; the PATH trains and stations; and Port Authority Marine Terminals
- The Port Authority Police Department
- Officer Michael Opromalla – who allegedly arrested Named Plaintiff A on May 12, 2014, who claims, following the arrest, he overheard officers congratulating Opromalla and referring to him as “the gay whisperer” based on his alleged track record of similar conduct
- Officer Shaun Kehoe – who allegedly arrested Named Plaintiff B on July 9, 2014
- Officer John Tone – who allegedly arrested Named Plaintiff B on July 9, 2014
- Officers John Doe 1-4 – PAPD officers, upon information and belief, at all times relevant to the litigation
The lawsuit says that the defendants “are deplorable indicia of a governmental agency that cares not about law or liberty, choosing to violate both with baseless abandon.”
Lawsuits Claims “Shocking and Appalling Exercise in Unconstitutional Bias”
The plaintiffs specifically claim the defendants engage in a “shocking,” “appalling” and “unconstitutional” pattern of targeting then arresting men perceived as gay on “baseless charges,” such as public lewdness and exposure or “quality of life” crimes, while claiming the individuals were partaking in illegal conduct in bus terminal restrooms.
The complaint outright rebukes the defendants’ alleged preconceived notions concerning the respective sexual orientations of proposed class members, and wages the Port Authority makes arrests with no obvious goal other than to prop up crime statistics:
“PAPD officers were making deliberately targeted arrests on the discriminatory basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation, actual or perceived gender expression, and/or to boost ‘quality of life’ arrest statistics at PABT and/or individual PABT officers’ arrest statistics,” the 28-page lawsuit claims.
Even worse, the case alleges Port Authority police make arrests with indifference toward any consequences:
“PAPD officers make such arrests knowing or believing that the majority of those arrested would ultimately be effectively forced to plead guilty to lesser charges such as disorderly conduct to avoid the public embarrassment and humiliation, potential jail sentences and fines, and potential reputational and professional harm associated with the false charges,” the complaint claims.
According to the lawsuit, the PAPD arrested more than 60 individuals on “quality of life” crime charges in 2014, with most being accused of masturbating in PABT bathrooms.
“This must stop,” the complaint reads.
A Hypothetical Example
The case lays out a hypothetical scenario in which the defendants’ alleged scheme would be put to use:
“The tactics employed by the PAPD officers to conduct such targeted arrests are a shocking and appalling exercise in unconstitutional bias. For example, plainclothes PAPD officers often pretend to use urinals next to targeted individuals in PABT men’s restrooms. These urinals are separated by privacy walls which prevent PAPD officers (or PABT patrons) from seeing into adjacent urinals under any definition of normal circumstances. The PAPD officer will proceed to stare at the targeted individual while he is using the urinal. In some cases, the officer will actually step back from the urinal in order to see around the privacy wall, in an effort to view the target’s hands and genitals. At the sole and unfettered discretion of the PAPD officer, the target is then arrested by a team of PAPD officers when he exists the restroom.”
According to the lawsuit, the defendants use proposed class members’ appearance, such as non-masculine attire or jewelry, as targeting signifiers.
The Plaintiffs’ Experiences
Named Plaintiff A and Named Plaintiff B claim they were arrested as they left PABT bathrooms by the defendant officers on May 12, 2014 and July 9, 2014, respectively. While all charges against Named Plaintiff A were eventually dismissed, Named Plaintiff B was allegedly charged with public lewdness. After a trial in front of New York’s state Supreme Court, Named Plaintiff B was found not guilty.
The 2004 Trial Against the Port Authority Police Department
The complaint details a four-day trial in 2004 that stemmed from similar alleged conduct violations. After deliberating, the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff—who, like Named Plaintiffs A and B, was arrested outside a Port Authority bathroom—concluding that “the Port Authority had a custom that led to widespread public lewdness arrests without regard to probable cause.”
The Proposed Class
The class proposed in the case includes gay or gender non-conforming males – or those who were perceived as such by PAPD officers – who used a Port Authority Bus Terminal restroom urinal and have been subjected to and are at risk of discriminatory targeting and false arrest.
The full complaint can be read below.