Five men were recently found not guilty of public indecency charges that arose out of police stings that took place last summer in Montrose Harbor.
Jon Erickson—who was assisted by Michael Oppenheimer, his partner at the law firm of Erickson & Oppenheimer—related the facts of the case to Windy City Times: 'Over the summer, police in the 23rd District created a task force in response to what they claimed were hundreds of complaints about gay men having sex in the bird sanctuary at Montrose Harbor. They set up a team of eight officers. According to my clients, the police were setting them up; it was my understanding that the officers' behavior was pretty forward.'
Erickson said that only two of the five defendants actually went to trial: 'I assisted [ another attorney ] on a case and that person was found not guilty. Then I had four at Belmont and Western on Jan. 12. The state's attorney put up one—and she dismissed the other three cases after the first guy was found not guilty.'
In winning that first case on Jan. 12, the attorney employed a two-pronged attack: 'The argument was twofold. First, because of the sheer number of arrests and the fact that every report was identical, I tested the testifying officer's ability to recall,' Erickson said. 'The other argument was that, according to the law, the sanctuary was not a public place—at least not the way the legislature intended. For something to be considered a public indecency, the state has to prove that it happened in a public place. Courts have ruled that a public place is defined as any place where the conduct may be reasonably expected to be viewed by the public. A bird sanctuary, with its natural state and undergrowth, is for people who go there for the opposite reason—so that they won't be viewed.' Erickson also added that the process took an emotional toll on the defendants: 'When it was all over, tears were definitely shed.'
According to Erickson, most of the approximately 70 men who were arrested pled guilty. They were each sentenced to three months of court supervision.