After two decades of hoping people wouldn’t find out he exposed himself to an undercover police officer in a Lynnwood park, Rodney Antonson is going public in a big way.
The 50-year-old Renton man, who pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of public indecency, is asking for a pardon from Gov. Jay Inslee.
Antonson’s attorney says the case could have implications for dozens, possibly hundreds, of gay men arrested in police sting operations in the 1990s.
“This was a pretty clear case of entrapment. It’s right in the police report,” said Bellevue attorney John Tymczyszyn, noting that it was the arresting officer, not Antonson, who initially suggested sex in the Aug. 16, 1995, encounter.
In a cover letter with his petition to the governor’s Clemency and Pardons Board, Tymczyszyn cites “a sense of urgency” due to his client’s health problems.
Antonson has diabetes, AIDS and lymphoma that is in remission but which led to nervous-system damage in chemotherapy.
“It’s important for me to get this dealt with now,” Antonson said. “I’ve waited long enough.”
Antonson was among 27 men arrested in two months at Scriber Lake Park in what police called an “undercover emphasis patrol” in response to reports of men soliciting sex from other men at the park, according to the report of the arresting officer, Patrick Fagan.
Gay-rights advocates say similar stings occurred across the country, including one a Midwest police department reportedly called “bag a fag.”
“There has been a long and ugly history in law enforcement in which police targeted members of the LGBT community for harassment and humiliation,” said Peter Renn, an attorney in the Los Angeles office of Lambda Legal, advocates for LGBT causes.
Gay-targeted stings don’t happen as often as they once did but still do occur in some places, along with other enforcement actions unfairly aimed at LGBT people, Renn said.
In Atlanta, Lambda Legal helped secure a $1 million settlement from the city after police stormed a gay bar in 2009, ostensibly on a drug investigation, and forced patrons to lie on the floor in spilled beer and broken glass.
No patrons were charged with a crime.
In more recent years, some police agencies have taken steps to improve relationships with the gay community. The Seattle Police Department last fall appointed a veteran officer as the police department’s full-time liaison to the city’s LGBTQ community.
Julie Moore, spokeswoman for the city of Lynnwood, said officials there had not seen the petition Antonson filed and have no comment.
The pardon request is not a lawsuit and does not seek financial damages. Tymczyszyn doesn’t rule out bringing a civil suit but said that decision would be made later.
Tymczyszyn said Antonson’s pardon request is based partly on a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a Texas sodomy law, effectively upending any measure that treats homosexual conduct as “less legal” than heterosexual sex.
People could still be cited for having sex in a park, Tymczyszyn said, but not if the action targets only same-sex activity and especially not if the officer lures his target into committing a crime.
The incident report by officer Fagan describes an evolving encounter in the park in which he saw Antonson on a dock, then walked up an embankment out of sight from the trail below.
In a short while, the report says, Antonson walked up to where Fagan was, and when the two of them began talking, Antonson put “his right hand in his pocket and was massaging his groin area.”
After a period of silence, Fagan said, “Do you want to do something?” and when Antonson asked, “Like what?” Fagan proposed oral sex.
When Antonson exposed himself, Fagan took out his badge and made the arrest, the report says.
“I really, at the time, should have fought it, but I was not out yet with my sexuality,” said Antonson, who was married at the time. And he worked as a country club chef, a job he was sure he’d lose if the arrest became public.
A public defender suggested if he pleaded no contest, he wouldn’t do any jail time and “it wouldn’t be that big a deal,” Antonson said.
“I was naive at that time of how it could influence the rest of my life,” he said.
That reality didn’t hit until years later, when his daughter — who was not yet born at the time of his arrest — entered junior high.
Antonson wanted to volunteer at school functions, as he had when she was in elementary school. But he noticed that the junior-high school conducted background checks for volunteers working on field trips and other activities.
He did a “test check” of himself online and there it was: public indecency.
Antonson said he couldn’t bear the idea of causing his daughter ridicule or embarrassment, so he did the only thing he could think to do: He simply withdrew from school activities.
Now, he said, his daughter is 18 and likely better able to handle what comes up. In addition, societal attitudes toward homosexuality have changed.
After the arrest brought Antonson’s sexual orientation to light, he and his wife stayed together for about two years, going through counseling, he said.
After they broke up, they both remained active in their daughter’s life.
Antonson is now in a relationship with a man. And although he has health problems, Antonson said he’s not giving up on life.
He is working toward a master’s degree in social welfare, which he expects to take three years. After that, he’d like to work at a hospital doing social-welfare work for people who have AIDS, diabetes or cancer.
Tymczyszyn said changes in social attitudes and public policy have helped set the stage for what he hopes will be favorable consideration by the pardons board.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling supporting same-sex marriage nationwide has no direct relationship to Antonson’s case, Tymczyszyn said it signals a societal shift away from treating homosexuality as shameful.
“If he had come into my office five years ago — or maybe just two years ago — I might not have recommended this course of action,” Tymczyszyn said.
Petitions to the five-member Clemency and Pardons board are first examined by two members. If either finds merit in the case, the full board considers the matter at an open hearing, accepting documents and testimony from all parties involved.
The board then decides whether to recommend the pardon to the governor. If the board does not support the request, the petitioner cannot resubmit the application for three years.