News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Acquittal sends nonverbal message to refuge officials

Buried in a jury's not-guilty verdict in the first trial from a sting operation at Wheeler Refuge were some lessons we hope the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will heed.

The trial looked like a no-brainer for the U.S. Attorney's office. While on the Beaverdam Boardwalk Trail in Limestone County, Anthony Gentry grabbed an undercover agent's crotch, the agent said, without provocation.

Mr. Gentry's explanation that the contact was an accident strained credibility. All the government had to prove was that Mr. Gentry made a sexual contact without consent of the agent, but the jury rejected the charge in 20 minutes of deliberation.

What happened?

One possibility is that the jury thought there were better ways to handle the refuge problems than sending out an agent to attract homosexual solicitations on refuge lands. The agent testified he was groped 15 times in a four-day operation, and that he did nothing to solicit the advances.

The agent's remarkable success at attracting homosexual advances suggests he is doing something — even if nonverbal — to make others believe their solicitations are welcome. The jury may well have concluded that is just not fair.

The problem at Wheeler is a real one, though. Testimony at trial made clear it has become a well-known "cruising" site for homosexual liaisons. That is not acceptable.

Refuge officials have not found the right way to solve the problem. They need to come up with a method of dissuading such conduct without doing so with tactics that smell a lot like entrapment, at least in this trial.

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