Wednesday, August 02, 2000

Death puts shadow on park image


Police report arrests largely alcohol-related

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — The recent death of an elderly man who was severely beaten in the public restroom at James Taylor Park has heightened the public perception that the park is a hangout for gay men and prostitutes.

[photo] POLICE OFFICER PAUL KUNKEL PLACES HANDCUFFS ON A MAN TUESDAY AFTER ARRESTING HIM FOR PUBLIC INTOXICATION IN JAMES TAYLOR PARK IN NEWPORT.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        Members of Stonewall Cincinnati, the local human rights organization that focuses on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, claim Newport police are targeting gay men in the park.

        Police officials say that is not the case, producing arrest records compiled over the past 18 months that show a preponderance of arrests for alcohol-related offenses. Out of 37 arrests, two were females. The lone prostitution arrest was a 19-year-old man.

        The tragedy that produced discussion of park safety in Newport City Commission meetings occurred June 5 when 80-year-old Eugene Schulkers of Dayton was beaten and kicked so brutally in the restroom at James Taylor Park that his neck was broken. He died in the hospital nine days later.

        The man charged in Mr. Schulkers' death, 21-year-old Thomas Back of Covington, told police that the victim “made a remark” in the restroom which enraged him.

        Originally charged with murder, he was indicted on the lesser charge of manslaughter in what the grand jury described as “extreme emotional disturbance.”

        Police Chief Tom Fromme, who was asked during a recent city commission meeting to determine whether more police presence was needed in the park after Mr. Schulkers' death, said he doesn't think there is a problem.

        “Predators strike everywhere,” the chief said. “The number and type of arrests made in the park pretty much mirror what happens in the rest of the city. We patrol the park, but there are no special details there.”

        Doreen Cudnik, executive director of Stonewall Cincinnati, said Tuesday that she had received a call from a gay man who claimed that there was police harassment in the park.

PARK ARRESTS
  Here are the number and type of arrests in James Taylor Park from January 1999 to July 2000.
  Total arrests: 37.
  Alcohol-related: 16.
  Prostitution: 1.
  Open warrants: 4.
  Parole violation: 1.
  Criminal trespass: 2.
  Unlawful use of invalid license, no insurance: 1.
  Disorderly conduct: 2.
  Marijuana possession: 1.
  Others: 9.
        “The man said he visited the park regularly, because he liked to sit on the floodwall and watch the river,” she said. James Taylor Park is on the point where the Licking River empties into the Ohio River.

        Ms. Cudnik said the man said he had witnessed Newport police approaching single men or men in pairs and advising them to leave the park. He said, however, he had not personally been confronted in that manner.

        “It's a touchy issue,” Ms. Cudnik said. “Not every gay person in a park is there to engage in illegal sex activities. Our concern is keeping people safe, and not being judgmental about their choices. As an organization, we want to keep everyone educated and as safe as possible.”

        City Commissioner Ken Rechtin, who is a regular visitor to the park with his wife, Tina, said he isn't certain how serious the situation is.

        “When we are there, there seem to be a lot of people obviously not there to just enjoy the park,” he said. “There are a lot of transients, and people who give the impression they are looking for something or someone.

        “There are a lot of cars. We'll see the same car come through, circle through the park, leave, then a few minutes later it will come back and do the same thing.”

        Asked whether he had received complaints from Newport residents about activities in the park, he replied, “You get comments from people like "You know what goes on down there.' But nothing really specific.”

        Mr. Rechtin said he thinks the park could be utilized much more than it is, with more events like the recent Arts and Music Festival which proved to be more successful in the park than it had been on the nearby city streets.

        “We used to have a kids fishing derby there,” he said. “There's a shelter that can be rented free of charge. I think bringing more people to the park regularly will discourage the people who are there to break the law.”

       



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