October 20, 2021

NIMBY Complaints Result in Police Raid, Sodomy Charges at Maryland Bookstore


 A raid on a Maryland adult bookstore in May resulted in some potentially unconstitutional arrests of three men for violating the state’s partially repealed sodomy law.

On Tuesday, the Washington Blade reported that back in May, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office arrested nine people when it raided Bush River Books & Video store in Abington, just north of Baltimore.

Of those nine, only three men were charged with perverted sexual practice. Another four were charged with indecent exposure, one was charged with indecent exposure and perverted sexual practice, and one person was arrested for solicitation of prostitution. The statement the sheriff’s office gave the Blade says that one of their undercover female officers was solicited by one of the bookstore’s patrons.

“I went inside and was hooking up with someone and the next thing I know, eight of us were against the wall with handcuffs with plastic zip ties on them,” one of the men arrested told the Blade. “And we all spent the night in jail. I was released at like six o’clock in the morning.”

The bookstore has long been a subject of neighborhood complaints and police attention.

The Baltimore Sun reported that the sheriff’s office had started conducting “spot checks” at the bookstore in late 2011, which periodically resulted in arrests of patrons for indecent exposure. One such check also found holes cut into the walls separating private video viewing booths, a violation of the county’s code.

“It really deters other businesses, especially upscale businesses, from opening, and really deters the revitalization process in that area,” said John Paff, the head of the Bush River Community Council to the Sun in 2012. A Change.org petition launched in June 2020 demands that the county “shut down this nuisance to our neighborhood.” It’s thus far received 169 signatures.

Similar NIMBY complaints appear to have motivated the most recent raid on the Bush River bookstore.

“In the past several months, we have received an increased number of concerns and allegations of a wide variety of illegal activity occurring at Bush River Books and Video,” the Sheriff’s office said. “We take all citizen concerns seriously, and there is an active investigation into these concerns.”

The arrested men have a trial date in August. Those charged with perverted sexual practice, however, might be able to get off.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas, that sodomy laws criminalizing private sexual behavior were unconstitutional. In 2020, Maryland’s legislature also partially repealed the state’s law criminalizing sodomy. The text of the repeal bill, however, shows that it left in place various references in the state’s criminal code to “unnatural or perverted sexual practice.”

Greg Nevins, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, a gay rights public interest law firm, told the Blade that the Lawrence ruling should offer protection to the men charged with committing sex acts in a private, locked video viewing booth, comparing it to a couple having sex in a rented hotel room.

Constitutional issues aside, there’s also the libertarian case to be made that businesses should be free to allow whatever kind of consensual sexual activity they want on their own property.