Officer’s Credibility Questioned In Gay Cases

Gay SexNEW JERSEY – A state appeals court has reversed the lewdness conviction of a gay man for masturbating in public, harshly questioning the credibility of a Palisades Interstate Park police officer who arrested him — and about a hundred other gay men during his career.
“An abiding sense of wrongness pervades this conviction,” the panel wrote in its decision, ruling that the conviction of Joseph Mamone, both in municipal and state Superior Court in Hackensack, did not allow for evidence that impeached Officer Thomas Rossi’s credibility.
Rossi arrested Mamone in June 2004 at the State Line Lookout in Alpine, alleging that Mamone approached him and began a brief conversation before he exposed himself and masturbated.
Mamone, who is gay and works as an office manager in Manhattan, said he approached Rossi only upon the officer’s clear invitation, which he said included a request to expose himself.
Rossi recited virtually identical allegations in 26 different complaints, the two-judge appeals panel wrote. The judges also noted that 99 percent of Rossi’s 100 or so lewdness arrests involved males masturbating in front of him.
The judges expressed “serious doubts about whether it was believable that a police officer could have had almost a hundred men approach him, pull out their genitals and start masturbating without any enticement by the officer at all. The record, in short, generates significant questions about the officer’s credibility.”
Defense lawyer Howard Leopold said his client testified with accuracy about the incident while Rossi was having trouble remembering details.
“The judges said that just because he is an officer, it doesn’t mean he can’t make mistakes or is telling the truth,” Leopold said.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay rights group, said the wording in the ruling was “as close you could come to questioning someone’s credibility without calling them a liar.”
He said the group will write a letter to Governor Corzine today asking for an investigation of the PIP Police Department.
“The baiting of gay men goes well beyond this one police officer,” he said. “We have every reason to believe that he is not the only one whose credibility is suspect.”
Marianne Auriemma, a Maywood lawyer who has represented about a dozen gay men arrested for lewdness by PIP officers, said, “There was clearly a pattern of harassing gay men.”
“The police reports in these incidents are almost identical,” she said. “It’s the same language over and over again.”
Detective Lt. Nelson Pagan, spokesman for the Palisades Interstate Park police, defended his department.
“This is a public area,” he said. “You have thousands of hikers, bikers, children and others coming here, and they complain that this sort of thing is going on. It has nothing to do with homosexuality. We just have to protect the public from these acts.”
Pagan, a 32-year veteran of the department, said he himself has made several lewdness arrests over the years.
“And I have nothing against homosexuality,” he said.
He also said Rossi is “a good officer” who has received several commendations in his four years in the department.
“I know my officer, and his credibility is high,” Pagan said.

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