By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Most everyone laughed as the squad of men in ski masks and police flak jackets quickly weaved through the dance floor, parting a sea of scantily clad werewolves, devils, and nurses jammed inside the Jet Set for a Halloween party.
Great gag, they thought, dressing up as vice cops and acting out a raid.
"I thought it was a joke at first, because everyone was in costumes," says one partygoer who was at the club with his wife. "It was a costume party."
Then the dance music screeched to a halt; the lights went on; eyes squinted, and real Dallas vice officers began barking orders for everyone to "go back to your original seats."
Up until that point, the predominantly middle-aged, professional crowd was having fun. If you believe the police version of what took place that Friday night, they were having just a little too much fun.
With the intensity of a drug bust--minus the threat of gunfire--a dozen uniformed and undercover police officers hauled away 15 people, mostly couples, on charges of public lewdness. One man, who apparently didn't believe the raid was real, was nabbed for resisting arrest and public intoxication.
In the stiff, legalese prose that's typical of police writing, the lewd acts alleged to have occurred are these: Seven people were engaging in "deviate sexual intercourse," including, but not limited to, "sodomy by oral copulation," and eight were making illegal "sexual contact...with the intent to arouse."
Roughly translated, police say they saw two blowjobs given; one muff dive; three incidents in which someone stuck their fingers into someone else's clad but accessible vagina; and six incidents of breast rubbing and crotch grabbing. Two women reportedly were topless.
Not surprisingly, the bust made sensational headlines. "Sex Raid," screamed one television broadcast, which, like other reports on the arrests, shied away from exploring the charges in detail.
Who could blame them? The corresponding police reports certainly are titillating. They suggest that a big, sweaty orgy was happening right there in the middle of the Jet Set's teardrop-shaped dance floor.
Never mind that four undercover cops, posing as couples, sat in the dark and crowded bar for two hours until they witnessed enough lewd acts to call in the uniforms. And consider that the police had not received any complaints about the bar before the raid. Instead, the officers were present because they suspected lewd behavior might be on display that night.
Jet Set owner Charles Poteet contends that nothing happened in his bar that doesn't happen in every other dance club in Dallas. What made the Jet Set a police target, he says, is that it caters to "swingers"--that is, couples, usually married, who have open sexual relationships with other couples and singles.
The Jet Set is one of five "off-premise" swingers' nightclubs in Dallas, which in the lingo means no sex in the bar. Together with the five local "on-premise" swingers' clubs, which are located in private homes where sex is encouraged, they make Dallas the unofficial swingers' capital of Texas.
In the world of swingers, Dallas also is known as the nation's morally uptight capital because of the comparatively high number of swinger-related raids, which seem to be carried out about once a year.
Word of the raid on the Jet Set has traveled far and fast in the world of swingers, who complain that the police are wasting their time and money policing a recreational activity that has no victims and is carried out by consenting adults. They point out that on weekend nights only couples and single women are allowed in the Jet Set, and everyone must read and sign a waiver that explains what the bar is before they are buzzed through the club's locked door. Swingers say police are turning the state's public lewdness laws into a tool to regulate morality.
In the coming months as the Jet Set cases go to trial, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office will have the task of proving that the alleged lewd acts occurred--if the cases go to trial. Cases like these seldom get that far in Dallas County because either the district attorney dismisses the charges, or, as is more often the case, the defendants quietly plead no contest in exchange for keeping their records clear and avoiding unwanted publicity.
But the fact that the arrests have nothing to do with crime fighting doesn't stop the district attorney's office from spending months, sometimes years, pushing the cases through the courts.
"If an activity occurs which is a violation of a law of this state, and a filing agency files it properly with us, then we prosecute it," says Assistant District Attorney Tim Gallagher, dutifully regurgitating the department's official prosecutorial policy.
Public lewdness is only a Class A misdemeanor, but because it is a crime involving morality, the social consequences of a conviction can be far more damaging than any punishment a judge can impose. As a result, the merits of the cases and the enforcement of the state's public lewdness laws are seldom challenged--even when the lewd acts allegedly occur inside the privacy of someone's home.