Sex busts in St. Louis park bathrooms lead to surprising plea deal

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) -  Police have arrested dozens of people this year in a public restroom. It`s a bathroom in one of St. Louis` nicest parks. Police say the suspects are married men hooking up in public. Our Fox Files investigation found an unexpected twist that may be bringing men back for more.

We followed a tip to Willmore Park in St. Louis Hills. A Fox 2 cameraman walked into the public restroom where a question about the weather lead to an unexpected answer. It appeared a man was getting ready to have sex with whoever walked into the bathroom.

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We’d heard about men meeting for sex in this bathroom, which is right off the entrance on Hampton, next to the tennis courts.

Watch the cars, they said. Someone may stay inside their vehicle and just sit there for a bit. If another car pulls in behind, watch out. You might see one man walk in and another right behind. Some crude web sites even give locations, instructions and warnings.

One post gave specific instructions to “leave those parking lights on at night boys if you are cruising for sex. Most guys park outside of the restrooms and walk in when you do.”

Park visitor Bill Mcnabb was shocked when we told him. He was walking his dog nearby and said he immediately thought about his grandkids.

He explained, “Just for the fact they`re going to do it in a public restroom where like I say any innocent little child could walk in and that could scar them for life to see something like that. If they wanna do what they wanna do, you know, just don`t do it in a public park.”

We wanted to know what a child might see when walking in to use the restroom. We had to blur most of the video we obtained. We found two things you wouldn’t expect - a man who appeared to be masturbating and an undercover cop there to arrest him.

We then witnessed another arrest within a short period of time. We watched for several days from the tennis courts and witnessed arrest after arrest. We saw four in a few days.

I asked Major Dan Howard, “Who are they?” He said, “They`re married men. 95% of them are married men.”

St. Louis Police Major Dan Howard oversees the undercover operation. He added, “It`s a big enough problem that just since January 1 of this year, where I committed some police resources to this, we`ve made 34 arrests out of that bathroom right there. 34 arrests out of that bathroom. That is, that`s too much.”

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Major Howard says this is far from the only bathroom where it`s happening. Some internet sites exist only to rate public bathrooms for sex across the country.

Major Howard said, “I don`t think it`s too much to ask for a restroom to be used for people that have to go to the bathroom.” I added, “That`s a novel idea.” The Major continued, “That`s a novel idea and it shouldn`t be. It should be an easy thing that people should be able to take for granted.”

Police reports show how bold the men are -- like "two men masturbating" in the "common area" right next to an undercover officer washing his hands. Another case involved a man "holding a cell phone with his free hand" watching a "young (girl)" maybe "10 years old …playing with a stuffed animal while fully clothed."

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We wanted to know what happens to the suspects. They come to St. Louis City Municipal Court, charged with lewd and indecent conduct. Sometimes they walk out of here with something else.

We met James Potter while sitting in on court. He’d just pleaded guilty to lewd and indecent conduct at the Willmore Park bathroom. He told the judge he was “embarrassed” about a “bad decision.” He brought up his ties to the Agape House Outreach Center and Church on Tower Grove Avenue. It’s where he says he's helped those who`ve fallen from drugs and alcohol. The judge accepted his plea and gave him a Suspended Imposition of Sentence (SIS), telling him his conviction will show no record of ever being entered if he stays out of trouble for two years.

Another man told me he was able to plead his charge down to littering.

Major Howard said, “Oh that`s terrible news to me.”

The plea deal surprised him.

The Major added, “If your record shows and you tell people you just got caught littering? That`s not what happened. You got caught doing a lewd act in a bathroom meant for families and people who have to go to the bathroom. You didn`t litter. So that doesn`t do us any good.”

Howard points out that the Department has made extra efforts to hold people accountable, like sending out orange postcards for offenses like 'lewd and indecent' and 'patronizing prostitution.’ It says 'Reminder - You are scheduled to appear in court.’

Major Howard said he had no issues with our report revealing the undercover operation because.. “I don`t want them coming here anymore. I don`t want to send those orange post cards. I don`t want to make arrests.”

Mcnabb says it`s another reminder for parents. He explained, “I would not take my eyes off my children for three or four or five seconds. I`m going have my eye on them or where they`re going.”

We're now trying to track what's happened to those 34 people arrested. We want to know how many others were pleaded down to littering? The St. Louis City Municipal Court will not respond to multiple requests to look at public court records, including a personal visit I made.

We'll be following up to find out what happened to those cases.

Screenshot from the bathroom rating website

Screenshot from the bathroom rating website