City pays out $450,000 for porn shop false arrest | East Villager & Lower East Sider

City pays out $450,000 for porn shop false arrest

Robert Pinter at a 2009 rally protesting the arrests of gay and bisexual men at Manhattan adult video stores.  Photo by VADIM SHEPEL

Robert Pinter at a 2009 rally protesting the arrests of gay and bisexual men at Manhattan adult video stores. Photo by VADIM SHEPEL

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE  |  gay man who charged he was falsely arrested for prostitution in an East Village porn shop in 2008 has settled the federal civil rights lawsuit he brought against New York City for $450,000.

“Settling this case was in the best interest of all parties,” Nick Paolucci, the deputy director of communications in the city’s Law Department, wrote in an April 25 e-mail.

Robert Pinter, who brought the lawsuit, said he will receive $50,000 in the settlement, and the remaining $400,000 will compensate his attorneys, Jeffrey Rothman and James Meyerson.

Pinter, 58, was one of 41 men known to have been arrested for prostitution in six Manhattan adult shops in 2008 and early 2009. Pinter, who was then 52, was arrested in Blue Door Video, on First Ave. near Fifth St., by officers in the Manhattan South Vice Enforcement Squad. He first agreed to consensual sex with a much younger man, who turned out to be an undercover police officer, but as they were leaving the store, the younger man then said he would pay for the sex. Pinter was arrested after he said nothing to the offer of money.

Pinter initially pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. He eventually withdrew the plea and his case was dismissed. The Manhattan district attorney also dropped prosecutions of some other gay defendants.

Pinter said he was caught off guard by the undercover officer’s offer of money and quickly decided there was no possibility he would in fact have sex with him, though the two, according to Pinter, continued engaging in “playful banter” while leaving the store.

Several men who were also arrested by vice cops spoke to Gay City News, The Villager’s sister paper, in 2009 and said they were also offered cash after agreeing to consensual sex. Some were arrested despite refusing the money. Others arrested said they never even agreed to the consensual sex, let alone to exchanging cash for sex. Those men pleaded not guilty and their cases were dismissed.

The city, which had been on a campaign to shut down porn shops since Rudy Giuliani was mayor, cited the prostitution arrests in nuisance abatement lawsuits that were brought against the porn businesses in an effort to close them down.

Four other men also sued the city in 2009 and settled their federal cases in 2011, with one getting $25,001 and the other three getting $45,001. The same vice cops also made prostitution arrests in spas, and another gay man, who was arrested in a spa, sued in state court and that case is ongoing.

Pinter sued in 2009 and has battled the city since, with the Bloomberg administration designating his case as “no pay,” meaning there would be no settlement. Mayor Bill de Blasio has indicated an interest in ending high-profile lawsuits, such as the case brought in 2002 by five men who were convicted based on false confessions in a 1990 rape of a woman in Central Park.

The Pinter settlement follows the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ denial of the city’s appeal of  U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin October 2013 ruling allowing Pinter to proceed with his lawsuit. In separate letters in recent months, the six openly gay and lesbian city councilmembers and a group of prominent L.G.B.T. community leaders urged the Law Department to settle Pinter’s case.

The councilmembers’ letter said Pinter’s “lawsuit involves insidious entrapment of a gay man. Such policing tactics, especially when a gay man is involved, bring up very painful memories of an oppressive time in this country when such actions were even more widespread.”

The 14 prostitution arrests in Blue Door were notable because nine of the 14 men busted there were over 40. Only one of the 14 had a prior arrest and that was for grand larceny.

Men arrested in the other five video shops ranged in age from their late teens to early 40s.

New York Police Department documents suggest that racial profiling in addition to the targeting of older gay and bisexual men may have played a role in the prostitution arrests.

Over all, 18 of the 41 arrestees were Latino and 14 were African-American. Seven were white and two were Asian. Seventy-eight percent of the men arrested were either Latino or African-American.

N.Y.P.D. records suggest that police were not arresting prostitutes. Among the 41 men arrested in all six shops, 15 had prior arrests with a few with extensive criminal records, but just two out of the 41 had prior arrests for prostitution.

The same vice cops who made the porn shop busts also made at least 16 other prostitution arrests of men and a few women in two Manhattan spas. Those spas were also sued in nuisance abatement lawsuits.