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Baton Rouge sheriff accused of targeting gay men for arrest

By Kathy Finn

New Orleans (Reuters) - A councilman in Louisiana's capital city of Baton Rouge said on Monday he wants to examine official records to find out if a local sheriff has been harassing gay men by enforcing an anti-sodomy law that the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a decade ago.

City Councilmember John Delgado said he "was incensed" when he read a Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper article on Sunday reporting that the local sheriff's office had arrested a dozen men in the last two years on charges they violated a state law prohibiting sex between two persons of the same gender. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that such laws are not valid.

"Those officers had to have known the law is unconstitutional," said Delgado, a lawyer. "I think it's a policy of harassment that targets a specific segment of the population."

About a dozen men were booked on the felony charge of attempted crime against nature in one neighborhood and two of the arrests were as recent as July, the local district attorney said.

The sheriff's office issued a statement on Sunday saying it "has not, nor will it ever, set out with the intent to target or embarrass any part of our law-abiding community." It said the arrests were an attempt to deter or stop lewd activity occurring in the park near children.

"In hindsight, however, we feel we should have taken a different approach," the statement said.

Neither East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux nor a spokesman for the office could be reached for comment on Monday.

All of the men were jailed and then released on bond fairly quickly, local District Attorney Hillar Moore said. The district attorney's office did not pursue the charges in any of the cases.

Delgado said the sheriff's office should apologize to the men who were detained.

"This is just infuriating, and I think it makes the city look like a backwater," he told Reuters.

(Reporting By Kathy Finn; Editing by Greg McCune and Leslie Gevirtz)

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