Public sex, indecent exposure prostitution and drug use. They're not activities you'd expect to see along a local nature trail. That's why Gulfport police answered one community's call to crack down on criminal activity in the area. Residents say men are using The Clower-Thornton Nature trail on East Railroad street as a meeting place for sex.
The Gulfport Police street crimes unit has been conducting under cover operations at the trail since October 24th. The investigations reveal that prostitution, sexual activity, and drug use in the area are causing quality of life issues for the citizens using the area for legitimate purposes. Police want to keep the area safe for those who use the trail for recreation.
The nature trail is nestled throughout subdivisions in Gulfport. The thick brush of the woods create thousands of little nooks and crannies.
"It's a real beautiful area to walk, in fact it's one of the nicest areas in Gulfport if you want to come out and see nature and interact with it, and enjoy yourself on a peaceful day like today," Undercover Gulfport Police Sgt. Rob Young said.
It's easy to meet someone as you're walking along the boardwalk.Young briefed officers about Saturday's mission.
"On Saturday, 11-29-03, members of the street crimes unit accompanied by representatives of the media will conduct and undercover operation in the area of the nature trail. The focus will be on detecting and contacting subjects who demonstrate a propensity for conducting illegal activities in the area," Young said to supporting officers.
Young walked the trail and waited to be approached. He was wearing a wire, and several officers were strategically positioned at all ends of the trail, monitoring his conversations and waiting for him to give the signal for an arrest. He walked and a balding man followed.
Young: "What's your name, I'm Rob and you?"
Young: "Nice to meet you Dean."
Young: "Friends have told me this is a pretty popular spot."
Suspect: "Yeah, it can be."
Young: "Is there anything more specific that you care about exploring?"
Suspect: "Do you like to look?"
Young: "Mostly that."
After a long conversation, the suspect exposed himself to Sgt. Young and officers rushed in for the arrest.
"What is that a crack pipe?" one officer said after searching the suspect.
"Crack cocaine, three small rocks, felony amount," the officer said.
Only a few minutes later, it started over again. Young, undercover, walked along the boardwalk and like several times before sees graffiti on the boards. Police describe the messages as advertising for sex.
Within minutes, Young was with another suspect.
Young: "Hi, how are you?"
Suspect: "All right."
Young: "Doing OK?"
Suspect: "Yeah, doing real good,"
Young: "Yeah, I saw the police were in here earlier."
Young: "Em Hm."
Suspect: "What are you interested in?"
Young: "Well, that's pretty interesting what you're doing there."
After another conversation, this man exposed himself to officer Young, and again supporting officers rushed into make the arrest.
"Come and get him, come and get him," Young said.
Police want to send a message to people who use this trail. Illegal behavior won't be tolerated and you will go to jail, and even put on TV. Gulfport Police Lt. Alfred Sexton said they will continue this operation until all criminal acts cease.
"It's a great walking trail and it should be utilized for what it's for. You've got plenty of youth groups science classes that come out here and are able to take samples back to their science class rooms and that's certainly what it's designed for," Sexton said.
After a hard days work, Young reflected on what he had to do to get the arrests.
"Yeah it's very unnervy, it's uncomfortable for me, but on the other hand I am a police officer and this my mission for the day" Young said.
Over the course of the 30 day investigation;14 men were charged with illegal activities in the park. Police said the men have a typically law abiding appearance and short arrest histories.
10/24/03 Vaugn Thacker, Long Beach, Indecent Exposure
10/25/03 Wade Thompson, Gulfport, Indecent Exposure & Soliciting Prostitution
10/25/03 Tommy Graves, Gulfport, Poss. of Paraphernalia & Controlled Sub.
11/04/03 Rudolph Rowell, Biloxi, Indecent Exposure
11/05/03 Kenneth Winston, Long Beach, Indecent Exposure & Soliciting Prostitution
11/07/03 Vincent Greco, Gulfport, Indecent Exposure & Soliciting Prostitution
11/07/03 Steven McBride, Pass Christian, Indecent Exposure & Soliciting Prostitution
11/07/03 Hyatt Amont, Gulfport, Indecent Exposure
11/08/03 Jessey Thibodeaux, Gulfport, Indecent Exposure
11/19/03 John Layson, Gulfport, Indecent Exposure
11/22/03 Michael Higgins, Long Beach, Indecent Exposure
11/22/03 Ronald Craven, Long Beach, Indecent Exposure
11/29/03 Dean Sannes, Pass Christian, Indecent Exposure & Poss. of Paraphernalia
and Controlled Sub.
11/29/03 Gordon Smith, Gulfport, Indecent Exposure