L.A. porn actor's conviction for working with syphilis is rare, but civil courts are filled with STD cases
by Susan Abr
The prosecution of an adult film actor who was sentenced to jail last week for exposing two co-stars to syphilis is rare both within the porn industry and the city of Los Angeles, but not in civil courts across the nation, legal experts said.
And while criminal prosecution has been in place for more than 20 years for those with HIV, some are calling on efforts to repeal those laws.
In April, a lawsuit was filed by a woman in New York against Arnold Simon, a former Calvin Klein CEO and major donor to Bill Clinton, claiming that he gave the woman herpes after the two met through an online dating service.
Attorney Matthew Blit, who specializes in discrimination suits and sexually transmitted disease law, said his firm Levine & Blit represented the woman, who was awarded $5 million, he said.
"The law in most states is that a person with an STD must disclose that to their partner before engaging (in sexual activity)," said Blit, whose law offices are in Beverly Hills and New York.
"Most of our clients go the civil route," he said. "But it's a very tricky area because it has to do with the disclosure of medical records and we can face a very big challenge. They are very difficult to win. The facts need to align perfectly."
Attorney Martin Cutler argues the facts did not align perfectly for his client, Jesse Spencer, known in the adult film industry as Mr. Marcus. Cutler said Spencer was caught in the middle of politics.
Spencer was sentenced to 30 days in jail on Tuesday for exposing another to a communicable disease. In addition to 30 days in jail, Spencer also was sentenced to 36 months probation and 15 days of community labor.
Prosecutors said Spencer tested positive for syphilis on July 13, 2012, and received a penicillin shot.
The movie scenes for which he was charged with took place on July 26 and Aug. 7.
Cutler argues that Spencer was clear of syphilis when he shot those scenes.
"My client had a really good defense. He didn't willfully know that he was contagious," Cutler said. "He was not being reckless about it."
Cutler said the prosecution was related to Measure B, the ordinance passed last year by voters that requires all actors working on porn shoots to wear condoms. Cutler believes the attorney's office was using Spencer as an example of why actors in porn movies should wear condoms.
A third actress is suing Spencer in civil court, which will be heard later this month. Cutler said he will defend his clients on the grounds that he was not infected at the time of the movie shoots.
However, Cutler agrees such laws have value.
"It's a good law, because it's good public policy," he said. "You want to prevent people hurting others when they know they have an STD."
But sometimes criminalizing the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease can go too far, as it has with AIDS/HIV, said Scott Burris, professor of law at Temple University. Burris has written more than 100 books, articles and reports on discrimination against people with HIV and other disabilities.
Criminal laws that emerged more than 20 years ago because of HIV/AIDS are outdated and based on misinformation born of fear in those early days, Burris said.
"It's not a misdemeanor, it's a felony," Burris said. "People have received life sentences for spitting at somebody."
The Center for HIV Law and Policy has noted 164 such cases from 2008 to 2013. Just last month, a 25-year-old man was charged with aggravated assault for spitting on a police officer in Texas.
The criminalization of HIV also has become a global political issue, one that President Barack Obama wants to change, because it is unfairly applied in some countries where HIV/AIDS is still a stigma, said.
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, introduced a bill she co-wrote last month asking states to amend or repeal criminal laws that single out HIV-positive individuals.
"These laws are based on bias, not science," Lee said in a statement. "We need to make sure that our federal and state laws don't discriminate against people who are living with HIV. These laws breed fear, discrimination, distrust and hatred, and we've got to modernize them. That's exactly what this legislation would do."
Little-Known Guide Helps Police Navigate a Diverse City
by JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN
Arab immigrants often speak loudly, even by New York standards, so what sounds like an argument could be just a family discussion. Chinese immigrants are uncomfortable asking strangers for help. And immigrants from rural Mexico generally avoid making eye contact with authority figures.
These are among dozens of “communication tips” mentioned in a Police Academy training manual that describes the various immigrant and ethnic groups that New York City police officers will encounter. Titled “Policing a Multicultural Society,” the manual seeks to help recruits overcome cultural barriers that threaten to escalate tense situations and can stymie efforts to elicit information.
Many of the pages offer the breezy read of a travel guide, offering advice to help police officers navigate a patchwork of foreign cultures across the five boroughs. Police officers are reminded that everyday gestures, like using a finger to point at someone, for instance, can cause unintended offense.
“Beckoning people to come to you by holding your palms up, for example, may be seen as obscene among Latin Americans,” the guide states. “Probably it is best for police officers to avoid using hand gestures until they have acquainted themselves with what they mean to the community members whom they serve.”
Taken together, the tips illustrate the challenges of policing a city as diverse as New York. They show that law enforcement in the five boroughs involves far more than just making arrests, and is endlessly fascinating in its portrait of New Yorkers. The manual received passing attention during a federal trial that ended last month over the Police Department's stop-and-frisk practices, as city lawyers cited the manual as evidence that the department is conscientious in training officers for interactions with minority New Yorkers.
But critics are sure to question whether the department's training efforts are sufficient, given the intense debate of the Police Department's use of stop-and-frisk as well as its scrutiny of Muslim communities as part of its counterterrorism efforts.
Some of the advice — like a description of how African immigrants prefer to shake hands — “through a light touch of the palms,” rather than a firm grip — could belong in a guide on business etiquette. But plenty of other tips deal with situations that are unique to policing, like responding to 911 calls or conducting car stops.
Officers on emergency calls are cautioned about the pitfalls of using children as interpreters, even though they often speak English better than their immigrant parents: to avoid upending the family hierarchy common within Latin American and Asian immigrant groups, officers are reminded to direct their inquiries “to the male of the household, even if children are serving as interpreters.”
The guide also warns officers that they may be alarmed by how immigrants respond during car stops: “Be aware that newly arrived Arab-Americans may get out of their car when stopped by a police officer as a gesture of courtesy,” the guide states.
Indeed, much of the advice has this subtext: behavior that strikes a police officer as suspicious may have a cultural explanation. For instance, police recruits are told that when entering a Puerto Rican household they are likely to encounter a lot of “eye-checking.” Rather than interpreting these glances among family members as an effort to prevent one another from speaking candidly, officers should understand that the mannerism “relates to the closeness of the family unit.”
The guide reminds officers to consider that immigrants may be especially fearful of the police because in their native countries the police were involved in rampant human rights violations.
“In such places, people learn early that there is little to gain and much to lose by trusting the police or by telling them the truth,” the manual states. “No matter how friendly, trustworthy, and helpful we may try to be, habits and traditions learned during a lifetime of oppression do not die easily.”
“Your interactions with immigrants from countries like Haiti, Cambodia, El Salvador and Guatemala will go more smoothly if you take the time to assure them that you will not hurt them,” the guide also states.
The origins of these communication tips are not entirely clear. The Police Department's chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said only, “The multicultural material was introduced decades ago but is updated periodically to reflect the changing face of the city.” He added that the tips come from a variety of sources, “including community leaders, academics and experienced law enforcement personnel.”
The lessons, Mr. Browne said, are “consistent with the literature and texts utilized by universities.”
Mr. Browne declined to make police instructors available for interviews about the training.
During the stop-and-frisk trial, a police witness, Chief James Shea, testified that the department's training emphasized to recruits that “there is no cookie-cutter approach to policing in New York City.” The underlying lesson of the manual, said Chief Shea, who once commanded the Police Academy, is to ensure that officers “don't assume that the person you're dealing with comes from the same life experience as you and is reacting the same way to what is happening.”
He added, “Certain cultures treat eye contact differently, treat touching differently, treat witnesses and children talking to other adults differently.”
Of course, many recruits already know this by the time they enter the academy. In recent years, police recruits have come from 88 countries, a fact that the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, often cites. The manual does not point out that the policing profession in New York has for more than 150 years drawn heavily from foreign-born immigrants, particularly the Irish. (In a brief section on the Irish, the manual notes that they “are part of American mainstream culture.”)
The guide encourages officers to think positively about immigrants, noting that they “pay $90 billion a year in taxes and receive only $5 billion in welfare.”
While the guide focuses on immigrant groups, it also contains sections on policing African-American communities. It notes that African-Americans have “much reason to be suspicious of the police,” making reference to the beating of Rodney King by officers in Los Angeles and the brutalization of Abner Louima in a Brooklyn station house. The section tells officers to “not take personally unfounded accusations or suspicions that their actions may be discriminatory.”
A newer section addresses interactions with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, reminding officers to be aware that antigay bias is still “pervasive in our police departments,” court systems and social services. Officers are asked to consider “the butch lesbian survivor in a shelter who is watched more closely by staff than her more feminine heterosexual fellow residents.” Several pages are devoted to terminology, and officers are instructed to use the term “gay” rather than “homosexual” because of that word's clinical connotations.
Elsewhere, the guide cautions against stereotyping and profiling, noting that “to assume the worst about a whole group of people, based on the actions of a few, is insulting and degrading.”
It offers a novel hypothetical: consider how police officers feel when a corruption scandal casts a pall over an entire department, leading citizens to assume the worst about all police officers. The guide asks officers to “think of what you would feel if, when you tell people where you work, they respond by asking, ‘How's business?' or saying, ‘So that's how you can afford to live in this neighborhood,' as if you too are involved in criminal activity.”
Warm weather brings bikes, car thefts
We usually see an increase in thefts during the warmer months.
by Bonnie Beste
Summer is finally here. The Superior Police Department reminds people to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. Bicycle traffic has increased in Superior with the warmer weather. Be aware of bicycles and understand the laws. A bicycle is considered a vehicle. It can operate in the driving lane and should obey traffic signs and laws.
We usually see an increase in thefts during the warmer months. Take a few extra seconds to secure your property and prevent yourself from becoming a victim. Do not leave property in your vehicle overnight. If you see suspicious activity or need to make a report to an officer, call 911.
A great deal of criminal activity is related to drugs and drug abuse. The Superior Police Department is sworn to protect our citizens and those visiting our city, but we can't do it alone. Community involvement is key to prevent criminal activities in the city.
Part of the police department's efforts have involved getting Citizen Watch Groups started in Superior. Superior Citizen Watch is the same as Neighborhood Watch. Members of Citizen Watch are involved in crime prevention in their neighborhoods by watching out for suspicious activity or criminal behavior and reporting it to the police department. Members take extra care in securing their property and homes to prevent burglary. They reach out to their neighbors so together they can keep their neighborhood safe. Citizen Watch is a network of community support involving a police and citizen partnership.
If you would like to start a Citizen Watch group in your neighborhood or become involved yourself contact Community Policing Officer Bonnie Beste at 715-395-7401.
National Night Out is scheduled for Aug. 6. This is an event where neighbors come together to take a stand against crime. Contact Officer Beste if you are planning to have a gathering in your neighborhood.
Have a fun and safe summer.
Community Policing Officer Bonnie Beste shares information with the community. You can leave a voicemail for her at (715) 395-7401.