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Police harassment lawsuit concerns gay community

By: Jon Brines Press Tribune Correspondent
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Gay and lesbian community members are raising concerns after a civil rights lawsuit revealed allegations of a persistent anti-gay culture at the Roseville Police Department. Roseville resident Lori Ennis, who is a lesbian, said she’s been pleased working with officers in the past, but the allegations of harassment based on sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation between officers now give her pause. “Do they understand what a hate crime is and would they look at it from a hate crime perspective?” Ennis said. Megan MacPherson, the city’s spokeswoman, said the police department has policies and procedures regarding the investigation of hate crimes. “Our officers receive state-mandated training in the recognition of and investigation of hate crimes,” MacPherson said. Bonnie Osborn, the spokeswoman for the Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Center, said the allegations in the lawsuit raise issues for the gay community. “What if you are robbed, how are you going to be regarded?” Osborn said. “What if you are in a relationship and your same-sex partner beat you up? Is anyone going to take you seriously?” MacPherson said officers routinely handle domestic violence incidents involving same-sex partners. “The Roseville Police Department is committed to treating all persons fairly and with respect,” MacPherson said. “In all domestic violence incidents, our goal is to protect the victim from further abuse by arresting the primary aggressor if an assault has occurred, by obtaining emergency protective orders if needed, and by referring the victim to local domestic violence follow-up services.” Ennis said she was troubled by the lawsuit’s allegation that homosexuality was referred to in the department as a deviant lifestyle and those who are gay are perceived to be interested in illegal acts, such as sex with minors. “Pedophiles are not gay people,” Ennis said. “The statistics show it.” The complaint alleges that after an unnamed officer perceived Sgt. Darin DeFreece’s sexual orientation to be gay, he encouraged DeFreece to not apply to lead the department’s Boy Scouts of America Explorer program which would place him in direct interaction with high school aged males. “Whether it is perceived or real it is still discrimination and it’s intolerance,” Ennis said. “If you are doing your job and doing it well, who cares what you do in your own personal time.” Ennis said the only alleged gay plaintiff, Ken Marler, is courageous for putting is personal and professional life on the line to change the culture at the police department. “I support him completely,” Ennis said. “There comes a time in everyone’s life when enough is enough. Maybe it is his time.” In the complaint, Marler was outed by Roseville Police Sgt. Kelby Newton, a defendant in the case, who broadcast to fellow officers of his transfer from another agency, “we’re getting a f—.” Newton declined to comment on the lawsuit. Marler then became a target of harassment in a number of incidents described in the suit. MacPherson declined to comment on particular allegations within the complaint. “Whether there’s any merit to any particular allegation will be addressed during discovery as the lawsuit moves forward,” MacPherson said. Roseville police Sgt. Darin DeFreece, a plaintiff in the case, wants the gay community to know the majority of Roseville officers are professional and tolerant of alternative lifestyles but the employment harassment needed to come to light. “You’ve got to have the house in order before you can go out there and truly do the job like it needs to be done,” DeFreece said. “The inside of the police department needs to be just as good as the outside of the police department.” Despite concerns, Interim Executive Director of the Sacramento Gay & Lesbian Center Bill Otton said the outcome of the lawsuit may actually benefit everyone. “The lawsuit is not being filed to harm the community, it is to right the community,” said Otton. “Hopefully there will be something come out of this that can help to educate.” The case has not yet been scheduled for trial.