Cyber Swing/Polyamory Resource Center
Promoting Intimacy and Other-Centered Sexuality
Phoenix sex clubs fight back
Owners file claim for $15 million after last week's raids and arrests
Club Chameleon has about 10 theme bedrooms that can be used privately or
opened for voyeurs to watch through windows. The club's owner, Milo Fencl,
said police raids on his club have increased publicity and attracted new
By Dennis Wagner
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 28, 2002 02:16 AM
Claiming their constitutional rights were violated by police raids, owners of two Phoenix sex clubs filed a $15 million claim against the city Friday and defended their patrons' rights to express the swinger philosophy.
Nicholas Hentoff, a lawyer for Club Chameleon and Encounters, said 30 police officers wearing bulletproof vests swept down on the clubs Sept. 20, conducted "unlawful, warrantless searches" and arrested managers for misdemeanor citations akin to walking a dog without a license.
"They not only did an assault on the clubs," Hentoff said, "they also assaulted the Constitution of the United States."
Members must be 20 or older, with valid photo identification.
City prosecutors say their actions were justified, legal and necessary to protect public health and morality. Sex clubs would "spring up like mushrooms" if nothing was done to stop them, Deputy City Attorney James Hays said.
Among the issues covered in years of court wrangling: whether sex clubs are public or private, whether voluntary acts among patrons are "indecent," and whether they endanger the public's health and morality.
Hays, who deals with sexually oriented businesses, said Phoenix has won the legal war in municipal, state and federal courts. Sex among swingers, he said, is not protected expression - even in a consensual gathering.
"They are not private membership clubs," Hays declared. "They are open to the public."
Hays said the businesses were raided after undercover officers observed members engaging in sex where other patrons could view them. Phoenix ordinances are designed to uphold morality and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, he said. None of the swingers were arrested for public sexual indecency because their behavior would not be considered offensive given the clubs' clientele.
However, the conduct by members placed club managers in violation of city ordinances, prosecutors believe.
During a Friday news conference at Club Chameleon, owner Milo x and Frank x, proprietor of Encounters, said Hays and police targeted their businesses in retaliation for legal challenges. They are mounting a national legal defense fund and had talked of starting an initiative campaign to overturn Phoenix's ordinance.
Hentoff, who referred to Hays as the city's "director of homeland morality," claimed Phoenix wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars to make improper arrests over misdemeanors.
In a letter to Hays, Hentoff threatened slander lawsuits against officials who insinuate that sex clubs are unclean or unhealthy, and he complained of selective enforcement because gay sex clubs were not targeted.
Hays countered that gay sex clubs were investigated but not raided because sex acts occur in private rooms.
Club Chameleon, surrounded by industrial buildings on a dead-end section of 29th Avenue, has the ambience of an upscale strip club with dim lighting and mirrored walls. Fencl said his 27,000 clients pay an annual membership fee of $25 plus nightly entrance fees of about $35 for catered food, soft drinks and an erotic environment.
The club includes about 10 theme bedrooms where couples may engage in sex privately or allow voyeurs to watch through windows. As Fencl conducted a tour, he explained how bedding is changed, disinfectants sprayed and condoms provided. Attractions include the Infinity Room with endless mirror reflections, an animal-themed Jungle Room, and the Fish Bowl with gaping windows and a nautical theme.
Noting that publicity from Phoenix's campaign has attracted new clients, Fencl said, "We appreciate the city being a market ploy for us."
Guys & Dolls, another sex club, closed Thursday because of the fight with Phoenix, according to a message left on its phone line. The fourth club raided last Friday, Discretions, could not be reached for comment.
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