The Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) has agreed to stop sending plainclothes officers to the Port Authority Bus Terminal men’s restrooms in order to arrest gay, bisexual, and gender nonconforming people and falsely accuse them of public lewdness and exposure. 

The PAPD has also agreed to pay a total of $40,000 in damages to the two men who were part of a federal lawsuit over their arrests. As part of the agreement before a federal court, PAPD said they will also include LGBTQI sensitivity training for all new recruits. 

“This settlement represents an important victory for our clients, Cornell Holden and Miguel Mejia, who bravely fought to end the Port Authority Police Department’s discriminatory and, frankly, downright creepy practice of surveilling men the officers believed to be gay while using public urinals and falsely arresting them for public lewdness,” Molly Griffard, Staff Attorney at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement. 

“This kind of blatant homophobia has no place in policing, and the reforms achieved in this lawsuit aim to safeguard against future abuses like the ones experienced and challenged by Mr. Holden and Mr. Mejia.”

Discriminatory Pattern Of Arrests

Mejia was arrested in 2014 and charged with public lewdness, when he visited the men’s restroom in the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New Jersey. The police claimed Mejia tried to initiate an encounter with another man, but Meija told the New York Times that he may have been targetted because he was wearing a gold necklace and pendant. 

Holden was arrested in 2014 and charged with public lewdness, but the charges were dismissed. 

Meija and Holden joined the federal lawsuit against the PAPD in 2017. Attorneys at Legal Aid said that they had in 2013 noticed a ” discriminatory pattern of PAPD false arrests for public lewdness based on the actual or perceived sexual orientation of the person arrested.”

They found that the spike in false arrests was part of an effort by the authority to “boost their ‘quality of life’ arrests”. In 2005, the PAPD had been found liable for similar arrests but continued with their stings in public bathrooms. 

“The PAPD continued to make such targeted arrests knowing or believing that most of the people arrested would ultimately plead guilty to lesser charges to avoid public embarrassment and humiliation, costly legal fees, and jail sentences, as well as suffer reputational and professional harm associated with the false charges,” Legal Aid Society said in a statement. 

PAPD To Pay Damages

Under the agreement reached in the case, PAPD has agreed to pay $25,000 in damages to Mejia and $15,000 to Holden. 

“I’m proud of the difference we’ve made by standing up against the PAPD’s bias-based policing. As a commuter who passes through Port Authority facilities on a daily basis, I will feel safer knowing that the reforms we fought for have been put in place, making it so that people like me aren’t arrested just because of who we are or what we look like,” said Mejia in a statement. 

With the case settled, Holden hopes to shift his focus back to his cake-baking business. “No one should have to go through what I went through, and I hope that the PAPD will change as a result of this lawsuit and settlement,” said Holden.

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