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By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Horses roam aimlessly in a meadow just around the block. There's a Boy Scout camp about a half-mile away.The green thicket behind the plain, ranch-style house prevents exposure to adjoining homeowners, one of whom waveswarmly at passing motorists as he mows his lawn. In this Duncanville neighborhood, there exists a rural serenity—or at least there used to, before Jim Trulock's home became notorious in North Texas and across America.His house, also known as The Cherry Pit, has grabbed headlines because of what has for years transpired behind its closed doors.
"We're swingers," says Trulock, smiling. "But we're not criminals."
Trulock, 59, and his sweetheart Julie Norris, 30, are avid participants in what swingers refer to as "the lifestyle," and are overseers of this controversial party house where men are urged to make "donations" to defray expenses, women are admitted free, and anything-goes debauchery is the raison d'être. For more than a decade before the police raids and the bad publicity, The Cherry Pit would draw 50 to 100 people each weekend; in the last year alone, it has played host to as many as 7,000 guests.
Trulock contends his slice of this mushrooming subculture is merely a family hangout where First Amendment rights are exercised in the form of saucy games such as "Naked Twister."
"We don't push it on anybody. We don't recruit. We teach people who want to learn," Trulock says. "We're an honest, loving, extended family."
The City of Duncanville, however, is not feeling the love. It sees The Cherry Pit as an illegal and immoral business gobbling up unreported income and sullying the neighborhood. City fathers couldn't have been pleased that The Cherry Pit maintains a Web site that encourages others to come to Duncanville to join the fun: "We are a group of like-minded friends who enjoy living the swinging lifestyle. We party on weekends and enjoy meeting new friends."
In September 2007, acting on a traffic-related complaint from a neighbor, the Duncanville police visited the house but did not arrest Trulock. Instead the city posted "No Parking'' signs in front of his home. On November 6, 2007, the Duncanville City Council enacted an ordinance making it illegal to operate a "sex club" in a residential area. A month later, Trulock received the first of five citations, each alleging three distinct charges: operating an illegal sex club, operating a sexually oriented business without a license and operating a business in a residentially zoned area. All 15 offenses were low-grade Class C misdemeanors, punishable only by fines.
Trulock's lawyers, Ed Klein and Garry Cantrell, wasted no time in attacking the constitutionality of Duncanville's new sex club ordinance, filing a civil rights case in state court alleging that the new law infringed on the free association rights of their client. "These are people who get together because they want to be with each other," Klein says. "It's not a business, there is no president or stockholders—it doesn't even have registered members."
In May 2008, the city of Duncanville again voiced its disgust with The Cherry Pit. It amended its sex club ordinance, says Klein, in what appeared to be an attempt to cure its constitutional shortcomings.
And things were just beginning to heat up.
Two Duncanville police raids, on July 19 and July 22, led to one arrest as well as the at-gunpoint confiscation of a variety of items inside the house. Based on an informant's tip, police executed search warrants, seizing thousands of dollars in "Fun Money'' (vouchers used like arcade tokens), $815 in real money, volumes of porn and "Cherry Pit business cards.'' (If it has business cards, isn't it a business?) Authorities also seized partygoers' cell phones, one man's Viagra pills and a bag of donation forms. (If the forms say "donation," isn't that what's being solicited?)
During the July 19 search, the Duncanville police allegedly found an assortment of tools of the sex trade: A stripper pole. A bondage room. Unclean mattresses on the floor. Porn. A dance floor. Panties hanging from the ceiling. A hot tub with an unsavory broth.
Police returned the second time to seize alcohol they had found the first time but failed to specify in their earlier warrant—582 bottles of liquor. In the first raid, Norris claims, she received a bruise to her forehead when she attempted to answer the door as the police broke it down with a battering ram.
"We tried to play nice,'' says Duncanville City Manager Kent Cagle, noting that over the last few years, Trulock was visited by the police chief, the fire chief and a city building official. "They spoke to him, [but] he came back with a new, even more defiant attitude.''
Cagle is leading the charge against The Cherry Pit and rattles off his city's well-publicized list of potential allegations against Trulock: Organized criminal activity, prostitution, narcotics trafficking, money laundering. He mentions that a home with a septic system is not equipped to handle a houseful of 100 people and that guests "walk around drunk'' in the front yard.
"It's 95 percent a legal issue,'' he maintains. "If your neighbor was raising pigs in a slaughterhouse next door, or running an auto-repair shop with junkers in the yard next door, they would be in violation. That's what's happening here, and when they claim they are not a business, they are not being honest.''