The Guardian Angels crime-fighting group, once again in the center of controversy because of its confrontational tactics, is faced with a lawsuit and restraining order by an unlikely plaintiff--a Hollywood bondage and sexual encounter parlor.
The Chateau, which advertises itself in sex periodicals as one of the world’s most renowned houses of dominance and submission, has sued the Guardian Angels for loss of income, saying its business has been hurt by the group’s picketing outside the parlor on Sunset Boulevard.
Chateau owner James D. Hillier also has obtained a temporary court order limiting the number of picketers directly in front of the nondescript gray building to seven.
The order also prohibits the Guardian Angels from blocking the door of the premises or physically interfering in any manner with customers.
“Maybe they can protest,” Hillier said of the Guardian Angels, “but they can’t harass . . . our clientele, which they did.
“We’ve been around here for 14 years with no problems and no troubles,” Hillier said.
The lawsuit, filed last month in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages.
No court date has been set.
Dozens of Guardian Angels picketed the Chateau night and day for a week in early December, carrying signs, urging customers to stay away, and trying to call attention to what the Angels’ regional director, Weston Conwell, said were concerns about prostitution and drug use at the establishment.
Hillier denied in an interview that any illegal activities occurred at the Chateau, although he acknowledged that the parlor’s location within 500 feet of a residential area violates the city’s Adult Entertainment Ordinance.
He said he is attempting to obtain an exemption from the law and in the meantime he is appealing a ruling by city zoning officials that would force the Chateau to close or move.
The Guardian Angels stopped picketing after the court order was obtained Dec. 7.
Conwell, who runs the group’s Los Angeles operations from headquarters in San Diego, said the protests ceased not because of the order but because members needed “to return to fighting crime.” The Angels have an outpost in Hollywood and one in Venice.
Conwell said the Guardian Angels welcome the lawsuit because it will give them a forum in which to air their concerns about the bondage parlor.
Among the biggest objections, according to Conwell, is that it is located next door to Covenant House, a shelter for young adult runaways.
“You have homeless runaways trying to get a start in life, and here’s this place recruiting them,” Conwell contended.
Hillier scoffed at the accusation.
Brother Robert McCarthy, Covenant House’s residential director, said he had no knowledge of any runaways going next door to work.
“It is counter to everything we believe in,” McCarthy said of the Chateau. “But they’re there and very unobtrusive to us.”
Vice officers in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division said they have investigated activities at the Chateau in the past but declined to say whether they are doing so now.
They also declined to say whether there have been any prostitution arrests there.
Hillier and employees of the Chateau said in interviews that the police routinely send in undercover officers to see if prostitution or other illegal activities are occurring inside the Chateau, but never find anything.
Conwell said the Guardian Angels decided to start picketing the Chateau after former employees complained to the group of widespread illegalities there.
“Just because it is happening behind closed doors, we don’t feel that we can turn our back to it,” he said. “The allegations are substantial enough so that we feel the police and the City Council should investigate.”
The Chateau, along with dozens of other sex-oriented businesses in the city such as massage parlors, are defined by city law as “sexual encounter establishments.”
Somewhat murkily, the law says they are permitted to operate in certain locations and provide a place for people to gather “in connection with ‘specific sexual activities’ or the exposure of ‘specified anatomical areas.’ ”
A spokeswoman at the Chateau said the parlor interprets this to mean that nudity is permitted, as well as “non-lewd” touching, but that patrons are not permitted to actually engage in “any kind of sex.”
In interviews, Chateau employees said they offer their services at about $100 per hour to anyone who wants to beat them or be beaten by them.
In its advertisements in local sex-oriented publications, the Chateau pictures its “mistresses” and describes them as “dedicated and truly into B&D;,” or bondage and discipline/domination.
The ads boast of the Chateau’s “quiet, unhurried atmosphere.”
During an unannounced tour of the Chateau, a reporter posing as a customer was asked at the door if he preferred “dominance” or “submission.”
In a tour of the dimly lit establishment, the reporter was shown a waiting room occupied by several scantily clad women with names such as “Mistress Storm,” who sat and read magazines while waiting for customers.
Beyond the waiting room were chambers such as “The Inquisition Room,” decorated in red, and the “Victorian Room” done up in powder blue.
Each room contained whips, heavy chains, wrist and leg irons, ropes and other devices.
“Civilized people walk through these doors,” said the employee giving the tour, who asked to remain anonymous.
“The murderers and the rapists walk the streets. You won’t find them in here--this is just fantasy.”