INDIANAPOLIS - Police have reported making numerous arrests at picnic tables, on park benches, inside cars and off jogging trails, as undercover officers take aim at nudity in city parks, apparently fueled in part by postings on several web sites.
"I think it's crazy," said one park visitor, as she rode her bike in the Skiles Test Nature Park on the northeast side of Indianapolis, reacting to a police sting that has netted at least eight arrests since late May. "Ridiculous," she said.
Numerous online listings refer to certain parks around the nation as "cruisy parks," and some even offer ratings and tips for men who want to cruise through certain areas to link up with other men for exposing themselves or masturbating in public.
Days after one group of arrests at the park off Fall Creek Parkway in northeast Indianapolis, the Call 6 Investigators found summer camp activities drawing groups of children to the park near the exact spot where arrests were being made. Dozens of other park visitors were typically seen walking their pets or riding bicycles to enjoy the scenic wooded park.
"They don't expect to find people exposing themselves or engaged in sex acts. That's not what you expect when you come to a public park, nor should it be," said one undercover Vice Squad sergeant with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department .
He said men who are "cruising" parks for illegal encounters often flash hand signals to alert approaching cars that they are looking to participate in the nude exchanges.
With hidden cameras, the Call 6 Investigators found some men backing their cars into secluded parking spots and then flashing the hand signals to approaching cars, as police had described. Men appeared to respond by pulling into neighboring parking spaces to discuss and arrange the particulars.
The undercover vice officer said the men sometimes expose themselves while remaining in the car, while others walk or drive to secluded areas of the park for the encounters. He said they are constantly watching out for police or park visitors who may turn them in to police.
"They're looking around because they know that there's people around riding their bikes through, they're walking their dogs, they're jogging nearby, so they're aware that there's lots of people here who are not welcoming of seeking that kind of activity," the sergeant said. "We don't welcome that kind of activity in Indianapolis. If you're breaking the law, we'll do our best to find it and address it through the legal system.
Undercover officers have been responding to complaints about the park by watching from wooded areas or even posing as men who are participating in the public encounters.
Thomas P. Sprague, 49, of Indianapolis, was booked on a misdemeanor count of public indecency on June 27 when the undercover IMPD sergeant said he struck up a conversation and Sprague followed him back to a wooded area.
The police sergeant said Sprague then began masturbating near a tree, prompting his arrest on the spot.
"It was something that I witnessed. Anybody else walking back there in that wooded area could have witnessed (it) as well, and it's a publicly accessible area within the park," said the vice sergeant.
As Sprague was being led to a waiting police car outside the park, he covered his face as the Call 6 Investigators approached to ask for his side of the story.
"I'm embarrassed," he said, while declining to answer questions about the police accusations against him in a family park.
A second man arrested that same day, Melhem Gharazeddine, 43, of Canada, also declined to answer a reporter's questions as he covered his face.
A different undercover officer said he struck up a conversation with Gharazeddine at some picnic tables, before both men walked back into a wooded area. The man is accused of exposing himself to the officer at that point, prompting his arrest.
Just last week, police arrested two men on the same public indecency charges at the same park. David Elliott, 26, of Indianapolis and Raymond L. Hudson, 42, who lives near Geist Reservoir, were both booked during mid-afternoon hours when many of the other recent arrests were recorded.
Since May 24, IMPD also reported arresting numerous other men on the same charges:
- Kevin Davis, 53, of East Raymond Street
- Harold W. Roosa, 59, of Burr Oak Court
- Paul B. Killian, 52, of Haverford Street (Also charged with resisting law enforcement during his arrest)
- Joseph R. Morris, 50, of Franklin, Ind.
"We've investigated these kind of complaints at all hours of the day and all different days of the week," said the undercover police sergeant, adding that warm weather typically means a higher number of arrests.
Some online postings that refer to the Skiles Test Nature Park as
a favorable "cruisy park" also warn people of undercover police activity in the park. Other postings describe exactly which parts of the park are considered ideal for such meetings, while one posting brags of numerous sexual encounters in one area of the park.
The vice sergeant said the undercover enforcement action will continue at that park, as well as other Indianapolis parks that draw the same sorts of complaints.
"Just know that you run a substantial risk of being arrested in Indianapolis if that's what you're here for," he said.