A man arrested in a controversial Manhattan Beach sex sting operation is suing the city, claiming police wrongfully targeted him and violated his privacy when they publicized his name and released his photo.
Hawthorne resident Charles S. Couch, 22, alleges he was subject to false arrest, unlawful search and seizure, and a litany of other civil rights violations during a sting operation last March that involved a beach bathroom that police said had become a known meeting place for men seeking sex.
The city and a number of local news outlets were criticized by a prominent gay rights group last year for publishing the names, ages and photos of 18 men arrested during the sting.
Now Couch is suing the city, its police chief, and 16 police officers, demanding $5 million in damages for mental distress, aggravation and loss of work, according to the suit, filed Friday in a Los Angeles federal court.
City officials said they had not been served with a copy of the complaint, and declined to comment. Couch’s attorney, Bruce Nickerson, did not respond to a request for comment.
According to Couch’s suit, he was working as a caregiver for Cambrian Homecare of Long Beach on March 9, 2012. On that day, he was supervising a child with mental disabilities as he walked along the Strand near the beach. When the child said he needed to use the restroom, Couch escorted him to one near Marine Avenue and the Strand.
He was waiting for the child, who was known to take an “abnormally long time” in the restroom, when an undercover officer walked in and entered the stall next to the child’s.
Minutes later, the suit alleges, the child bolted from the stall and told Couch the man was looking at him through a hole. Couch says he turned to leave with the child when the officer followed him, asking, “Why are you leaving so quickly?”
Next, the suit alleges, he was surrounded by five other officers, dressed in plainclothes and “resembling thugs.” Unaware they were police and fearing for the child’s safety, he grabbed him but was “tackled, choked and handcuffed” and taken to the jail where he was interrogated “for several hours.”
Eventually, the suit says, the child’s parents were called and they vouched for Couch and explained the child’s condition. He was later released with a detention certificate that said there was “insufficient evidence” against him.
Couch alleges police asked him for permission to retrieve the child’s backpack from his car, which he granted, but they instead proceeded to “ransack it completely” without a warrant, and seized his personal laptop.
It wasn’t returned until months later, the suit claims.