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The San Diego Six

It had been a great year.

Club X San Diego was having a bang-up time.  We were on a roll.  Life was good.  We had a kick-ass Board of Directors who were all enthusiastic, dedicated, got along well with each other, were very creative, and wanted the Club to do better.  In the space of just a few months on the Board we had managed to turn Club X around and charged out of the doldrums into which it had descended.  One example of this was our play parties.  In 1999 we held four of them.  Four!  Club X had never held so many in one year.  Ever!  We were fast on our way to holding a fifth when the boom dropped.

At our October play party the San Diego Police Department’s Vice Unit raided our party and made six arrests.  Even though it was a private party and not visible from the street, they charged the six individuals with crimes of either committing “Lewd Acts in Public,” “Public Nudity,” or both.  This was devastating.  All of these were “sex crimes” and could be elevated to charges requiring that the offenders, if found guilty, would then have to register as sex offenders with the state.  One of the six people arrested had a security clearance to worry about.  Another had plans to be elementary school teacher.  None of the Six really had the financial resources to mount an effective defense.

I had a ringside seat to all of this.  I was one of the two Co-Chairs of Club X and I was on duty outside of the party when the cops showed up.  The sergeant in charge of the operation identified himself to me and told me to stay put as his officers streamed into the party to do their arrests.  I have never felt so powerless as I did watching this go down.  There was nothing I could do.  All I could hope for was that our staff and our guests kept their cool for it seemed like the Vice Officers were just looking for an excuse to knock heads.  Luckily our side kept its head and no one got beaten senseless nor was anyone taken to jail.  The treatment of several of the individuals however, was very clearly abusive.  One female Vice Officer made her disgust known quite plainly.  She is lucky she didn’t get sued for the way she mistreated Patty who had been in the middle of a temporary piercing scene as she was arrested.

As soon as the police left we shut the party down.  We did make sure to gather together the six individuals who had been arrested and cited.  We let them know that we would be standing with them and that they would not face this alone.  It was an important thing to do and needed to be done right then.

The next morning I put out the first of what became many press releases.  I was signed up on a number of SM related newslists so I was well suited to get the word out.  My first press release stuck very closely to the facts and gave the community a clear contact to get more information.  It was also an attempt to dispel any rumors or innuendo before they spread too far.

That first week after the Raid was not a pleasant one.  None of us had any experience with this sort of thing.  We had thought that we were on pretty good terms with the San Diego Police Department.  Club X had met with the Vice Unit as part of our preparations for LeatherFest X, held in 1998.  During that meeting a Vice Unit officer had been very up front in saying that they knew about Club X and what we did “was of no interest to them.”  This seemingly paid off when we had to call in the paramedics during the event.  Upon their arrival at the event hotel the police and fire department units that arrived along with them did call the Vice Unit about our activities.  The Vice Sergeant on duty dispelled any misgivings the beat cops had about us.  It was only due to the hotel’s lacking the proper permits that we had to close things out that night.  So, we thought we had established ourselves and therefore had nothing further to worry about.  We were wrong.

It turns out that in the year and a half since LeatherFest X a lot had changed in the San Diego Police Department and City Government that we had not paid attention to.  There was a new police chief, there was a new Vice Unit Lieutenant, and there was a new City Attorney.  That plus it was an election year coming up.

The new Vice Unit Lieutenant, Sarah Creighton, was the first female Lieutenant in charge of the Vice Unit.  Even had she not be disposed to, in order to be accepted, she would have had to work harder than a man in that position.  As it turns out though, Lt. Creighton was even more gung ho than necessary.  The new City Attorney, Casey Gwinn, turned out to be one of those “compassionate conservatives” who also didn’t like sex, gays, queers, or anything that deviated from decent Christian Republican white folk.  He had already directed the Vice Unit to step up its enforcement actions against gays seeking sex in public parks and he directed his Office, which handled those “crimes,” to unfairly prosecute the gay men caught in those actions.  Hetero men charged with the same crime for trying to pick up hookers were allowed to plea out on a “disturbing the peace” charge while the gays got the full sex crime charge of “lewd act in public.”  And this for doing no more than most straight boys do in public everyday.

We didn’t make ourselves aware of just how much had changed on the other side and now we were paying for it.

Luckily the next Club X Board Meeting was on the Thursday following the Raid.  That gave us time to get some resources online and try and figure out a way to deal with the problem.  We were almost frantic in getting this done.  We did find an attorney who was somewhat familiar with this sort of thing and he came down from Orange County to attend our meeting.  We gathered there at the meeting all of the six individuals who had been arrested.  It was the first time since the Raid that we had everybody present and we used the occasion to figure out what would happen next and what we could do about it.

None of us had experience with the courts or how criminal charges progress.  The attorney who was there however, did.  His explanations were enormously helpful.  He explained the whole legal process to us and gave us some idea of the time frame involved.  He also explained the nature of the charges and what we could expect from that.  It was a huge relief to have this cleared up.  It took a lot of the pressure off of the six people.

The meeting also gave Club X another chance to make clear that we would be standing with these six folks.  They would not be alone in facing down the oppression of the police in government.  We couldn’t pay for their legal defense, we could not hire a lawyer for them, we could not do any of that but we could help in all of it and we would insure that we provided the emotional support which they so desperately needed.  One of the six individuals was in tears upon hearing this.

In short order we began to turn up some very valuable resources to help.  The six people charged soon became called “The San Diego Six.”  It was catchy, handy, and it stuck.  The press releases became more polished, and the community at large began to both learn of this event in more detail and respond to it more effectively.  In short order we had established a legal defense fund for the San Diego Six and we had a website up which explained what was going on and served as the official reference point.  Club X also put the Six in touch with an attorney, Andy Zmurkiewicz, who had done some LeatherFest work in the past.  He turned out to be a true gem and the one who led the Six to victory.

Come Christmas that year we were all holding our breath.  The Six had all been arraigned and the first trial date had been set for Crickett.  Five of the Six had decided to go with Andy and the sixth person had opted to go with another attorney.  All of this fit in with the Defense Fund which was rapidly filling with donations from across the country.  To help with this we had even come up with “Support the Six” T-shirts and our own snappy logo to go with them.  The T’s were an excellent idea.  People like having scene related T-shirts and the idea of doing something to help others out through their purchase was a good one.  The T’s went like hotcakes.

Crickett came up for trial in mid-January.  It was a three and a half day long affair.  I was asked to testify.  That was an interesting event.  A few weeks earlier Andy had asked me to help in preparing some of the materials he would use in the trial.  We went down to the Masonic Lodge, where we had held the party, and did a walk through with camera and tape measure.  We measured off the size of the parking lot, and the size and layout of the lobby.  All of this was in an attempt to show how secure and isolated the venue was from the street and how difficult it would have been for it to be publicly accessible.  After getting the measurements, Andy asked me to compose illustrative maps of the areas which I then printed out in poster size.  These became key items he used in the trial.

My testimony was interesting.  It was a first for me.  He had told me the intent of his questions and things proceeded smoothly.  There was no courtroom theater going on like there is on TV.  It was very dry and reasoned.  I did my bit, spoke my piece, and was thanked for my efforts.  Two days later the jury returned a verdict acquitting Crickett of the Lewd Act In Public charge against her.  In the post trial comment phase (which occurs at the end of all jury trials) the members of the jury went further.  They told the Prosecutor that the City’s case against Crickett was “weak” and that it was a “waste of time.”  Direct quotes and direct damnation of the City’s interference in the lives of its citizens.  It was a smashing victory for us and a great relief as well.

Within two weeks the City Attorney decided to cut his loses and dropped the charges against the remaining five of the six.  Victory, sweet victory.

A painful victory though and one which eventually cost about $20,000 to achieve.

This would not have been possible without Andy Zmurkiewicz’s skills as an attorney and his familiarity with this sort of case law.  It would also not have been possible without the organizational abilities of Club X bringing the community’s resources to bear to help the Six.  We, as a Club, stood by the Six throughout their ordeal.  That was something we did from the first moment and something we carried through to the last.

The overall leather/ SM/ fetish community also came through for the Six.  They donated over $20,000 to the Fund and that fully paid for all the legal expenses of the Six.  It also paid for the administrative costs in developing that support.  The cost of the T-shirts and of the postage involved in mailing them out to people who bought them.  It paid some of Patty’s medical expenses for the time she had to take off of work because of what she went through.  It was wonderful to have and truly made the defense happen.  We all owe the community a great deal of gratitude for their support.

I just wish it was a bit more universal.

Right from the start it was apparent that some people in our community were more intent on fixing the blame than trying to fix the problem.  At that first Club X Board Meeting after the Raid, there was a clique of individuals who were intent on damning Club X for its actions.  They perceived us as having been deliberately careless with the way we handled things at that party.  One of them stood up in the meeting and tried “cutting us a new one” for having ignored a letter that the Vice Unit had sent us telling us not to hold the party.

The trouble was - no such letter existed.  Nor did Club X receive any letter of any type form the Vice Unit nor from any other part of the Police Department nor from the City Government.  There was a letter that the Vice Unit had sent out to the venue where we held the party.  It arrived a week before the party took place and listed all the permits that the venue would need in order for the party to happen.  I met with the manager of the Masonic Lodge and we examined the letter in detail.  We both realized that Vice had its head up its ass in sending out the letter.  It listed all the permits needed for selling liquor, having a live band, and having dancing.  Club X never sells alcohol at any of its events, doesn’t have live bands at its play parties, and there is no dancing (at least to music) at our parties either.  The Lodge manager agreed that the letter didn’t apply to us and I discussed it in depth with the rest of the Club X Board and we all came to the same agreement .  Vice had sent out the same letter to the fetish fashion show with which our party coincided.

The Whiplash Store in San Diego held a fetish fashion show, the “Whiplash Bash,” twice a year.  The previous year they had asked us to hold play parties in conjunction with their event.  The Bash would be on the Saturday night and our party would be on the Friday night before it.  Whiplash would handle ticket sales to our party and we would get all the proceeds from those sales.  It was a great arrangement.  Our attendees could now buy tickets over the phone using their credit cards.  They did have to go down to the Whiplash store to pick them up but that was a lot easier than coming to the few monthly Club X events that they had to do previously.  Whiplash got to have an associated event that helped draw in more folks to their show and we got a whole lot more people at our parties which really helped our bottom line.  The proceeds from even one such party were enough to keep our Club going for months.  It was a really sweet deal.  It was a damn shame that a few drunks blew it for all of us.

It turns out that at the Spring Whiplash Bash a few of the attendees had gotten to randy and exposed themselves during the show.  As booze, dancing and a live band were all present at the Bash, so too were Vice and the Alcoholic Beverage Control officers.  They made some arrests, filed some charges, all of which were later dropped, and then decided to keep an eye on Whiplash.  When their October Bash started being advertised they noticed the little blurb about the Club X Dungeon Party included.  Thinking we were part of Whiplash, they decided to go after us as well.  Their mistake, our loss.  In late October Vice sent out that letter to Whiplash, to the Masonic Lodge where we were holding our party and to the venue where Whiplash was holding its Bash.

The letter caused the owners of “4th & B,” where the Bash was to take place, to panic and break their contract with Whiplash.  This forced the cancellation of the Bash.  That letter caused the Masonic Lodge folks to get rather upset as well but I helped diffuse that by meeting with them.  We all agreed that this was Whiplash’s problem and not ours.  That was our mistake.

However, Club X never got a letter from the Vice Unit.  There was no such warning from them that they were gunning for us.  Nothing of the kind at all.  Yet, at this meeting, that little clique was assured that we had gotten such a warning and that we had decided to ignore it, thereby deliberately putting our event and all of its attendees at risk.

Aside from being completely wrong, such an assumption was insulting.  The very people who were making that assumption were former and present members of Club X.  These individuals were ones that we had all worked with in the past.  We had stood with them as they had their turn in the barrel and caught a huge amount of unfair criticism for their actions related to LeatherFest X.  At the least we thought a bit more benefit of the doubt would have been shown by these folks.  We were wrong.

I had expected some amount of criticism at that meeting.  I understand how some people handle fear in different ways.  One way is to try and blame the victim.  This is common enough.  If something bad happens to someone else among the first thing that most people think is what that other person could have done to bring that bad thing upon themselves.  If they can rationalize this as having occurred than that means that the bad thing would not occur to them – for they would never have made that same mistake.  It is a common enough rationalization.  When a woman gets raped, most other women will ask what she did to get herself into that situation.  What was she wearing?  Why was she alone with that man?  When someone get mugged or shot we always look for details in the crime report to explain it away:  What neighborhood were they in?  What time of day was it?  A common way of trying to deal with the uncomfortable fact that it could have been them instead.  That is tough to admit that life is so random and that bad things can happen to good people.  Most folks don’t want to have to admit that and will make some very twisted rationalizations to avoid that fact.  I expected as much at that meeting.

I did not expect some so called “leaders” in our community trying to attack us.  Especially when they were dead wrong in the “facts” they used as justification for their attacks.  A simple thirty second phone call would have cleared up that error.  They had almost a full week to make that call to any of the Club X Board.  Yet they chose not to.  They would rather be righteous than right – no matter the cost.  The Six at that meeting – as well as the rest of the Club X Board – were all hurting.  We were all scared and all under enormous pressure.  To have some of our own turn and attack us was a deeply hurtful thing.  It really showed the motivations of those involved.  It also was a harbinger of more to come.

I found it particularly ironic that our actions were best received by the national leather/ SM/ fetish community and either disparaged or ignored by the local leather/ SM/ fetish community.  The San Diego women’s community really stands out in this.  And not in a good way.

It turns out that this clique who was so adamant to find fault with Club X was also the same group which went out and established L.A.S.H. (Leather And SisterHood) here in San Diego.  It was one of the two separatist groups which started that year.  This one was for just the women although it did allow for hetero’s to join up.  The other separatist group, Gay Leathermen Only (G.L.O.), was just that GAY only – het men need not apply.  All in all, that is fine.  I personally do not like the idea of excluding leatherfolk on the basis of their orientation.  However, if you have the balls enough to go out and set up your own club, then at least you are doing more than the majority of unsatisfied folks do.   They would rather sit on the sidelines and piss about things than actually get off their butts to do something about it.  At least the organizers of these two groups took action.

However, LASH went beyond that and this is where they really showed their colors.  While I can appreciate the need for some to do things which makes them and/ or their group stand apart, there are also times when it is wiser to stand together.  Case in point was the December LASH meeting.  By this time a lot more was known about the Vice Raid and the Six had retained Andy.  The court dates were established and the legal fund was up and running.  We were putting out the calls for help and for support.  We were letting the world know what was going on with all of our press releases.  So, things were pretty clear about what had happened and who was involved.  Two of the women arrested that night were LASH members.  In fact, five of the San Diego Six were female.  All of this should have been perfect for LASH to jump in on.  Instead, they jumped out of it and did so in a very public way.

At their December meeting, one of their members put forth a resolution calling for LASH to declare its support of the San Diego Six and for Club X’s efforts in helping them fight the charges against them.  Simple enough.  No call for money to be allocated.  No call for LASH members to bind themselves to Club X.  No call for LASH to associate itself in any way with anyone else.  Just a call for a simple statement of support of those in need.  A no brainer really.

They blew it.

First they began debating what this declaration would mean to them as an organization.  The sticking point turned out to be the bit about declaring their support of Club X’s efforts.  I wish I could have been there to have commented on this directly but I couldn’t.  I’m a man so I can’t participate in their meetings.  Anyway, this bit about Club X went around and around.  Finally, that portion was dropped.  Now the resolution simply asked LASH to declare its support of the San Diego Six.  That was it.  Just a simple “god, apple pie, and motherhood” type of emotional support statement.  No more.

This too was debated.  Endlessly.  ‘Round and ‘round.  Amazingly and even with two of the Six being LASH “sisters” themselves, LASH voted not to declare its support for the San Diego Six.  Amazing!

This was a simple a piece of good news as they could have generated.  Declaring their support would have cost them nothing and would have been a nice touch for the Six.  It would have shown to all that LASH was committed to helping the community grow and that it too would stand by those in need – particularly when it was so many “sisters” in need.  Hell, they should have been leading the way!  Instead, the folks in LASH showed themselves to be petty, narrow minded, short sighted, and vindictive twits.  It showed how little they cared for the rest of the community and how little they cared even for their own members.  Amazing.  At least things have changed for the better over there.  None of the individuals who were on the LASH board which approved that pettiness are on their board now.  So, there is some hope for their slice of the San Diego community.

The men’s side of the house managed to avoid all of this by simply avoiding all of this.  The gay leather community views Club X as being a hetero group.  By extension, any problems we have are therefore hetero problems.  Their lack of support was not as obvious because they were never terribly supportive to begin with and they also were not stupid enough to declare their lack of support as did the women’s community through LASH.  Just how removed they are is shown by the latest leather contest.

At the 2001 Mr. San Diego Leather Contest, one of the judges was a former Club X Board member.  He was on duty the night of the Raid and it affected him deeply.  As part of the private contestant interviews he asked each of the candidates for the Mr. San Diego Leather title what they knew of the San Diego Six.  To a man none of them had ever heard of it.  Not one.  None of the gay men had any idea of the biggest thing to happen to the San Diego leather community in the past decade.  Not one.  Utterly clueless.  This despite the Raid being mentioned in the local gay rags, and despite it being covered in the national leather press as well.  Not one.  At least not in the interview.  When they saw the look on that judge’s face they knew they had blown it and they all went out and asked what the San Diego Six were about.  Each of them made sure to later tell this judge of their new found knowledge and new found dedication to their behalf.  Yeah, right.  This is one of the reasons I don’t think much of the whole titleholder crap when it comes to getting things done in our community.

On the whole however, this has been a positive experience.  It has actually served to strengthen us and make us a better organization.  It almost broke Club X.  Had we not had the people we did on the Club X Board, things could have been a lot worse.  Instead, we had a team who recognized the need to pull together and stand by those accused.  We did that and then carried on to rebuild our Club.  That Raid shut us down and hit us hard.  It was over a year before we had the wherewithal to hold even one play party.  We did that though.  In February of 2001 we held our first party since the raid.  It was a smashing success and was even attended by folks from San Francisco and Los Angeles who came down here specifically to help us celebrate it being the first.

During the months leading up to it, Club X was very proactive in meeting with the Vice Unit.  We followed things quite closely as the new Vice Lieutenant, Chris Ball, took over from Lt. Creighton.  An odd turn that.  The normal tour of duty in the Lieutenant’s position is two years.  At least.  Lt. Sarah Creighton was the Vice Unit Lieutenant for just twenty months.  One year and eight months.  The abrupt end of her tour coincided with the City Attorney’s complete defeat in court and the rejection of his case against the San Diego Six.  While we have no direct proof of this being linked, the timing is notable.

Lt. Ball seems to be everything that Lt. Creighton was not.  He is calm, cool, professional and willing to work with us.  Club X has had several meeting with him.  During the first, I watched him as he corrected one of his sergeants on a point of law which was the very one our case turned on.  It seems that there are some changes as a result of the San Diego Six winning their fight.

This whole experience has also taught me who my friends are.  It has been a real crucible and we did get burned going through it but none of the fires we endured were as painful as those inflicted on us by those we had thought were our allies.  The pettiness and unreasoned vindictiveness made things worse than they had to be and showed those few for the failures they are.  I for one, will not forget the nobility and helpfulness of the many nor will I forget the pettiness of the few.  A learning experience indeed.
 
 



If you would like to learn more about me – just ask!   Drop me a line and we’ll see what happens.  I can be reached
here at: madoc@madoc.us.

Until later then,

Madoc

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This page was last updated on: 27 February 2003