News 12 at 11, February 13, 2008
AUGUSTA, Ga -- Just 10 days ago, deputies arrested 10 men for propositioning sex from undercover officers; 8 at Pendleton King Park, 2 more at Lake Olmstead.
Turns out, that was just the tip of the iceberg.
In a News 12 exclusive investigation, Lynnsey Gardner found there are 16 well known public places men are soliciting sex and only she has the information the sheriff's office is using to try to stop it.
The Sheriff's Office promises another sting soon to break up what they call dangerous behavior that is a threat to the public.
Augusta's riverwalk is a downtown staple and tourist favorite, and it has also become a playground for men soliciting sex from other men.
Sgt. Richard Elim, a RCSO Vice Investigator, "We're not talking about someone who is trying to get someone's phone number or something like that, we're talking about someone trying to engage in a sexual encounter in public."
Information obtained by news 12 and confirmed by the Richmond County Sheriff's Office tells of 16 local public places where men say they engage in open sexual activity.
It's called cruising..and men even document the best ways to meet, including when and exactly where to go. At the riverwalk, a park bench on the lower level is suggested; evenings and early mornings, considered the best times to find someone.
"This is kind of surprising. There's a better way to do it than that." Father Ricky Duhart brings his three kids here every week. He says he had no idea their playground was also enjoyed in other ways -- illegally. "It will make me more aware where i take my kids and be aware of my surroundings."
And Riverwalk is not alone. "Various stores, libraries, book stores," explains Sgt. Elim.
Borders at Augusta Exchange and Books-A-Million on Washington road to be exact. The men's bathroom here at the Georgia Welcome Center on I-20 is included, the back two stalls considered the best location once inside. Also mentioned, bathrooms at the Augusta mall, inside the Home Depot on Bobby Jones, even the Medical College of Georgia Library.
Out of the 16 hot spots on the list, one of the newly added ones is the Pilot Gas Station bathroom at Riverwatch and I-20. It's so new, yet it's already the most popular.
"It's unsafe behavior. One person engaging in these behavior could be robbed, they could catch a sexual transmitted disease or they could be hurt." explains Sgt. Elim.
So what can we expect?? More stings like the ones at Pendleton King Park. More than 30 men were arrested there in 2004, eight more just this year.
And Sgt. Elim says all 16 places are now under the watchful eye of the Sheriff's Office, "If they come back to these areas, we're going to come back to these areas and we're going to do as many of these operations we need to do to make our public feel safe."
News 12 did ask all of the above businesses for comment, but were denied by all of them; most citing a corporate policy that did not allow them to speak to the media.