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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Deal rejected in Warm Sands case DA's office offers to drop sex offender status; defendants want case dismissed

by Mariecar Mendoza -
The hearing for 15 of 19 men arrested in connection with the 2009 Warm Sands public sex sting resumed yesterday after the men rejected a plea agreement offered Thursday by the Riverside County District Attorney's Office.
“The problem I have with this is that it's always, ‘Why don't the gay men roll over and apologize? Why don't they take a deal or something like good gay guys are supposed to?' Well, no. We've had enough of that,” defense attorney Joseph Rhea said. “These men were entrapped.”
The controversial case, which has attracted national attention, resumed Thursday in Indio after defense attorneys demanded the charges against their clients be dismissed.
It also was a continuation of a June hearing that, at that time, involved only three of the now 15 defendants.
According to court documents, the defense maintains the charges are invalid because Palm Springs police appeared “to be engaging in homophobia rather than focusing on actual crime.”
The operation, which took place in June 2009, involved an undercover male police officer who acted as a decoy to attract male suspects intent on engaging in public sex acts.
Nineteen men, in total, were arrested during the sting and charged with misdemeanor lewd conduct in public.
If convicted as charged, the men would be required to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives on a database available only to authorities.
According to previous defense testimony, at least one police officer uttered a gay slur during the operation.
A subsequent city investigation found that Palm Springs police Chief David Dominguez also made an “inappropriate comment” during the operation.
On Jan. 5, citing the significant controversy surrounding the sting, Dominguez announced his retirement as Palm Springs police chief after three years.
During Thursday's hearing, the district attorney's office proposed a plea agreement that would have dropped the lifetime sex offender registration requirement if the defendants pleaded guilty.But defense attorneys said no.
They opted, instead, to move forward with their motion to dismiss the charges.
Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Earl Lee Roberts called the defense decision “ironic.”
“They've been screaming about (being listed as sex offenders) all along, and now we've offered to settle this for less than sexual registration and they want to keep going. I think that's kind of ironic,” Roberts said.
Judge David B. Downing ruled Thursday that because 12 new defendants have been added to the defense's motion, testimony from the June hearing must be redone.
The judge also added that Dominguez's comment “troubles” him, but did not elaborate.
Downing's decision means in the coming days, the prosecution will bring back witnesses from the June hearing to redo their earlier testimonies.
Those witnesses include Palm Springs City Manager David Ready and Dominguez, as well as other city officials.
Roberts, the deputy district attorney, said he is confident in his case.
“The Palm Springs Police Department did nothing wrong. Nothing at all. They did an operation to address a problem that was legitimately there, that legitimately needed to be addressed,” he said.
“We are right on the law. I'm counting on us winning.”
Roberts added that he will bring in witnesses familiar with the Warm Sands neighborhood to prove that public sex is a problem in the area.
Palm Springs City Councilman Rick Hutcheson, a defense witness, testified Thursday that Warm Sands is known for its “friskiness.”


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