By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In 1996, the vice unit made 248 public lewdness arrests, compared with 2,064 prostitution arrests, 311 obscenity arrests, and 63 gambling arrests. The unit also made 666 citations for state liquor law violations and 340 city ordinance violations. Of the police department's $208 million budget, the vice unit spends $2.8 million, or 1.3 percent of the total.
"Public lewdness we do because the citizens don't like it going on in their city. People don't like to be exposed to it," Walt says. "If the people of the state of Texas don't want it enforced, then the Legislature would strike it from the books."
Dallas attorney Steven Bankhead, who is representing several of those arrested at the Jet Set, isn't convinced the general public is exposed to any public lewdness because of swingers. Although the Jet Set is a public place under the law, Bankhead argues that the general public does not have access to it.
"You're not going to have a couple of tourists who are going to stumble in there and be appalled by what's going on in Dallas," Bankhead says. "That's just not going to happen."
The Jet Set is by no means easy to get to. Located two blocks off Cedar Springs in Uptown, the 250-capacity bar stands where Routh Street dead-ends into the shrubbery of Turtle Creek. With its wooden walls and blood-red aluminum trim, the one-story structure could be mistaken for a barn if it weren't for the blue and red "Jet Set" sign that illuminates the parking lot.
A handwritten sign tacked up in the entryway reads: "Please remove ski masks and unload weapons before entering."
On this Thursday afternoon, Jet Set owner Charles Poteet stews from his perch on a barstool. A thin man with long black hair tied into a ponytail, Poteet says the raid has scared off his clientele.
"Sucked," he scowls, answering a question about the last weekend's business. "Big time. We might as well have not been here."
To make matters worse, Poteet has just received a letter from Capt. Walt, who informed him that he was suspending Poteet's dance hall-license permit for five days, meaning he'll have to shut his doors. The vice unit--which issues the licenses--concluded that Poteet was unable to operate his bar in a peaceful way because of the raid.
"The unfortunate thing is, you're no longer innocent until proven guilty," says Poteet, who notes that none of the people arrested in his club has yet been convicted of a crime.
After vice raided the Jet Set in 1993, arresting several couples for public lewdness, Poteet decided that he would take a few extra precautions to avoid any similar problems in the future. To gain entry to the bar, customers must first sign a "temporary membership" card, which warns them about the behavior they might see inside the club. Customers also sign a waiver stating they won't be offended.
Once signed up, they are buzzed through a second door, which conceals the inside of the bar.
"We expect that at times the conduct on the dance floor may become offensive to some. This conduct may include a moderate display of nudity or suggestive behavior," the waiver states. "If you have a question as to what type of conduct we are talking about, please ask now."
While Poteet acknowledges that the waiver isn't legally binding, and it doesn't make his club any less of a public place, he contends that it goes a long way to show that the last thing he and his clientele want to do is offend people.
"You don't get many people wandering in here that didn't try to find us," Poteet says. "We're down here by ourselves. No one bothers us, and we don't bother anyone else."
Attorney Bankhead says the Jet Set cases raise an important question about the idea behind the state's public lewdness law. Bankhead contends that the law was designed to protect the public from happening upon offensive behavior--not to be used as a morality tool by police to seek out questionable behavior carried out by consenting adults in places to which the general public has no access.
"I don't know that you'll find anybody who'll say that you can just have sex out in a public park, and that that ought to be proper conduct," Bankhead says. "But I don't know if there's a need for the police, spending my tax dollars, to go past several barriers just to make an arrest."
On this point, Bankhead may have the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on his side, given its 1983 ruling in the case of Liebman vs. State.
On August 3, 1979, Lawrence Liebman and Norman Bloomer entered neighboring booths inside the old Paris Adult Theatre in Dallas. Convinced that lewd behavior was imminent, three Dallas vice officers entered a booth next to Bloomer's.
Because the booths were 7 feet tall, the officers took turns hoisting each other up so they could see into the neighboring booths. From the first booth, the officers saw Bloomer standing flush against the wall. From that they presumed he had inserted his penis in a "glory hole" that opened inside Liebman's booth.
To verify their hunch, the officers left the booth and regrouped in the booth next to Liebman. After hoisting themselves up again, they "observed Mr. Liebman...seated on a bench with his hands in skin contact with the penis that was stuck through the wall...and he was masturbating this penis in a vigorous manner."