A senior at Minersville Area, PA (pop. 5,000), and a High School football player, Marcus A. Wayman was known as Marcus Sterling.
Marcus, 18 year-old, and a 17 year-old friend were coming from a high school football party in April 17, 1997 when they pulled into an abandoned parking lot, to turn around their car, parked near the Beer City beverage distributor in Minersville. Minersville police officers J. Scott Willinsky and Thomas Hoban , investigating a potential burglary, immediately approached the car to question the two teens.
After frisking the teens, police found that Marcus' friend was carrying two condoms in his shirt pocket. Officers immediately separated the teens, while another officer stood guard. The officers at once concluded they were obviously "queers" (police quote). Police questioned the boys about there previous whereabouts and their intentions in the empty parking lot.
The responding officer concluded, after repeatedly questioning them for about 30 minutes, that Marcus and his friend had stopped there to engage in sexual activities... based on the fact that they we're in possession of condoms. Minersville police, specifically Willinsky, called the boys "queers", quoted biblical passages and took them into custody for an expired vehicle registration.
Willinsky proceeded with more questions regarding homosexual activity, while the boys emphatically denied such allegations.
Regardless of the teen's answers, Willinsky concluded, without reason or cause, that the boys were gay. Further, the small town police officer threatened to out both teens to the rural community, friends and families if they would not out themselves willingly as homosexuals, and quoted biblical passages while placing them under arrest for alleged underage drinking.
Both boys continued to deny being homosexual, but after the car was searched and breathalyzer tests administered, the officers arrested the teens and took them to the Minersville Police Station, where they again threatened to publicly reveal them as homosexuals.
Marcus Wayman was dropped off from the police station at 2 a.m. He was in a despondent and depressed condition as a direct results of the accusations and threat to disclose the accusations of homosexual activity.
He was particularly concerned that his grandfather, a respected citizen of Branch Township would be upset and harsh in his reaction to any allegation that his grandson was gay, and that he would take out his anger on his grandson. Marcus went home... contemplating the issues and impact this would have on his reputation and family... depressed and isolated.
At his grandfather's West West Terrace home, Marcus Wayman, depressed and disconsolate over the threats and accusations, and feeling that the defendant police officers would carry through on their threats and thereby stigmatize him, ruin his reputation and anger the main authority figure in his family, secured a firearm in the house and, sometime before 6 a.m., committed suicide.
Six hours later, Marcus, scared that he would be "outed" as a "fag" by police to the community and his deeply religious family, took a gun to his head hours later and shot himself. He was just 18 years old.
Marcus Wayman's fears were not fanciful. After his death, officer Scott Willinsky did assert that Marcus Wayman was "queer," and that he had admitted to police that he was gay. He stated in court that the boys also admitted they stopped in the parking lot to have sex.
There is absolutely NO indication that Marcus or his friend were gay at all. However, police concluded that two teen boys -- in a car in night time -- and carrying condoms -- were gay (Condoms = Queer?).
Moreover, according to the autopsy report, the breathalyzer test measured Wayman's blood-alcohol content to be .04 percent. The autopsy revealed no alcohol in his bloodstream.
A test of the contents of Wayman's stomach revealed a .01 percent level of alcohol, consistent with Marcus having taken a shot of whiskey before committing suicide.
During the first trial, Wayman's friends and family testified repeatedly that the boy was straight, but on Friday night, Mark Sterling said his stepson's sexuality was irrelevant. "It didn't matter if Marcus was gay or straight. As long as he was safe, and happy," he said. "You never know what you have until you lose it."
In a time of rampant HIV, STD infections and teenage pregnancy, we teach and preach to our youth to practice safe sex. Yet in Minersville, carrying condoms is translated from responsible teenage behavior to being "queer faggots"(police quote).
In 1998, Madonna Sterling, Marcus' mother, filed civil charges against Minersville police officers and the town; specifically, Police Chief Joseph Willinsky and son Scott Willinsky, claiming that the officers clearly violated Marcus' privacy rights.
Due to the vague nature of sexual orientation being covered under privacy laws, the attorney for the police argued that sexual orientation was not considered private and therefore, not protected under the Constitutional Amendments. As a result, the defense moved for a dismissal from all charges against the very same police who are sworn to protect and serve all citizens. In November 2001, a jury acquitted the police from any wrongdoing!
During pretrial arguments in November 2000, the 3rd U S Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that a person's constitutional right to privacy not only includes one's sexual orientation but stated "it is difficult to imagine a more private matter than ones sexuality and a less likely probability that the government would have a legitimate interest in its disclosure. Further, by threatening to disclose ones homosexuality would be tantamount to doing so, because the security of ones privacy has been compromised by the threat."
The defense for the police further justified the actions of the police by saying that in small towns like Minersville, the police are obligated to take on parental roles as well act as spiritual advisors to members of their community."Chief Willinsky offers that, as a small town police officer, his role has parental overtones, thus, reducing the citizens' expectation of privacy. We mention this only to note our disagreement with the concept that the breadth of ones constitutional rights can somehow be diminished by demographics," US Circuit Judge Carlos Los Mansmann wrote in the ground-breaking, landmark opinion.
This high court ruling allowed the case to move forward and the civil trial was held in Allentown, Pennsylvania on November two-thousand and one. After three days of testimony, a jury acquitted the police from any wrongdoing.
On June 17th, 2002, the honorable and respectable, Judge Arnold C. Rapoport granted a new trial for this case, tossing out the previous acquittal. Judge Rapoport saying that the evidence presented at trial was clearly not heard or understood by the jury, calling the verdict a miscarriage of justice.
The defense immediately appealed for a reconsideration of Rapaport's decision to overturn the verdict and further plead to allow the Appellate Court hear whether it was within Judge Rapaport's authority to toss the verdict.
In a terse statement issued on October 18, 2002, Judge Rapaport issued a decision that boldly and flatly denied the defense's plea on both counts... clearing the way for the police to face new charges of misconduct, again, in front of a new jury for the invasion of privacy that prompted Marcus' suicide.
"Judge Rapaport's decision was short and sweet," Kyle N. Quandel, publicist for the family and Campaign Director said. "Briefly put, Judge Rapaport had no specific reasons for the denial; citing that his opinion and authority are clearly outlined in the previous June 17th decision. He clearly didn't feel a need to reiterate his already firm stance on this case and felt it warranted no further exploration."
This unprecedented case has been ongoing since 1998 when Madonna Sterling, Marcus' mother, filed civil charges against the Minersville Police and Borough for violating her son's right to privacy.
Wayman was singled out by the officers because he was a member of the Minersville football team, since Scott Willinsky, a school board member, was at odds with the rest of the board over who should be coach.
The officer lecturing the teens about homosexuality - F. Scott Wilinsky - had in fact previously worked as the high school football coach. When he was forced out of his coaching position, he vowed to retaliate against all of his former players, including Wayman.
A month before Wayman's death, Wilinsky had cast the single nay vote to rehire football coach Richard G. Jones, whose firing the month before spurred a petition drive in support of the coach.
Scott Willinsky's father, the police chief and Jones' predecessor as coach, "had expressed his resentment at not being named coach of the Minersville High School football team and had a negative attitude toward the players on the team who did not support his attempt to be named the coach.''
Prior to searching the teens, Scott Willinsky had asked if either was a member of the football team, at which time Wayman said he was. Wilinsky made good on his threat when he was releasing Wayman from custody. He warned Wayman that if he didn't tell his grandfather that he was gay, Wilinsky would take it upon himself to disclose the information.
Scott Willinsky's threats to reveal homosexuality "was motivated by his personal anti-gay beliefs, by the Police Department's failure to properly train and supervise its officers, and by his father's animus towards members of the high school football team.''
Family of Marcus Wayman Speaks Out
In a pioneering effort, the family of Marcus Wayman-Sterling publicly speaks out against the police who violated their son's privacy rights. The agony, pain and suffering of losing Marcus to suicide by the warped and twisted beliefs of the police who "protect and serve," bring Marcus's family together; speaking out for tolerance, sending a clear message that the invasion of anyone's privacy rights is unethical, immoral, and moreover, illegal.
On Friday, August 23, 2002, the Sterling family appeared on a local Pennsylvania newscast for an unprecedented and candid interview. This comes at a time when national networks are vying for exclusive rights to cover pre-trial issues (fall 2002).
Kyle N. Quandel (publicist for the Sterling family) says, "It's time to show the public the profound effects of losing a son to suicide, police misconduct and threats to 'out' Marcus as being gay. Losing Marcus continues to have an intense affect on the family."
"My heart has been torn out; my arms are empty from his huge bear hugs. I NEVER want another mother to feel that her arms are left empty," says Madonna Sterling. "If Marcus was gay, we wouldn't have loved him any less. The fact is we will never get the opportunity to tell Marcus that: Minersville police took that right away from us."
Since the 1997 suicide of 18 year old Marcus Wayman, his family has battled furiously in Federal Court (Eastern District, PA); claiming that Minersville Police (Scott Willinsky & father Chief Joseph Willinsky) violated Marcus's Constitutional rights under the 4th (search and seizure) and 14th (citizens' right to privacy) Amendments.
Marcus' mother, Madonna L. Sterling of Mahanoy City, filed a suit April 7 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, alleging that Minersville Police Officers J. Scott Willinsky and Thomas Hoban violated her son's constitutional privacy rights.
Police began by arguing in 1999 that sexual orientation was not considered "privacy" covered under the 14th Amendment. However, this argument was quickly dismissed by the Honorable Judge Arnold C. Rapoport, presiding.
Minersville attorneys rushed an appeal to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (2000), where again, the motion was quickly dismissed by the High Court; setting a national judicial precedent that sexual orientation is a most valued right covered under our 14th Amendment.
Then in November 2001, the case was remanded back to Allentown Federal Court where a jury heard three days of testimony and concluded that the police should be acquitted from any wrongdoing. Thankfully, in an unprecedented and courageous judicial move, Judge Rapoport tossed that verdict and moved for a new trial.
After seven, gut-wrenching and grueling years rehashing the tragic details of their son's suicide, Marcus' family has put an end to the turmoil. Minersville insurance agents claimed that a significant reward for damages would seriously jeopardize the Borough's financial stability as well as the Homestead Insurance Company and force them into bankruptcy, prolonging the case for an indeterminate amount of time.
"This is an issue of privacy, police accountability and tolerance. While officers must remain accountable for their actions, the widespread message we are hoping to send, is to talk to your children now ... before it's too late" says Quandel. "Marcus is dead; having thought suicide is preferable to being labeled as gay. How many more children do we need to lose before we begin to teach diversity and tolerance? This will send a clear message to all parents. Teach your children tolerance and diversity. Acceptance of your child begins at birth!"
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has joined Mrs. Sterling's suit. Stefan Presser, its legal director, said the action suggests "abuse of police power.''
"The requirement by police officers that an individual better disclose particular facts is way beyond what is allowed by our constitution,'' he said. "We will bring our full weight of support to vindicate the family's interests.''
The mother brought the suit is hopes of preventing similar incidents in the future, said Mark L. Sterling, Wayman's stepfather.
"Officers should be trained so that moral beliefs don't affect police matters. Officers need to stay objective at all times,'' said Sterling, who worked as a police officer in Texas for more than 10 years. He is manager of the county's Joe Zerbey Airport.
Before the trial could begin, courts had to address the officers' contention that revealing someone's sexual orientation does not violate constitutional privacy rights. The officers appealed that question all the way to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled (2000) that a person's constitutional right to privacy includes their sexual orientation, and "it is difficult to imagine a more private matter than one's sexuality and a less likely probability that the government would have a legitimate interest in its disclosure," and by threatening to disclose ones homosexuality would be tantamount to doing so, "because the security of one's privacy has been compromised by the threat."
One of the highest courts in the country said it's not the government's business whether someone is gay - and it certainly isn't the government's role to disclose or threaten to disclose that information. But that's not all. The justices explicitly recognized the constitutional rights of lesbians and gay men in rural communities.
Wilinsky had claimed that in a rural community like Minersville, citizens have a lower expectation of privacy. His lawyers told the court that as a police officer in a small town, he takes on a parental role, which the community expects. The rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people are not dependent on geography. That's not news to any of us. But a ruling clearly spelling it out is an enormously valuable tool.
Now, nobody whose job makes them privy to such private information can rationalize flagrantly homophobic intrusions by claiming that constitutional rights might actually depend on where someone lives. This includes law enforcement officers like Wilinsky, but also school staff and others who work with youth - and who often have vast power in small towns.
After a day of negotiations in a case that has been going since 1997, the family of Marcus Wayman has accepted what they consider an insultingly small monetary settlement from the Borough of Minersville and its police department. The Sterling family accepted the Borough's lesser offer to reach some small closure from their teen son's suicide that was caused by the specific incident involving the Minersville police force.
The Police officers involved have not been reprimanded and no action at all has been taken against them!
The Marcus Memorial Campaign
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From the issues and implications around this particular case and the disturbing history, a campaign to raise awareness of suicide, privacy and homophobia was created. The Marcus Memorial Campaign is dedicated not only to educating the public about Marcus' tragic story but also to inform the public about issues around suicide, assist questioning persons deal with emotional issues regarding coming out, defend the rights of the public and articulate issues of safe-sex.
The Marcus Memorial Campaign, founded in 2001, grew out of the need to educate the public about the tragic case of Marcus Wayman. Marcus' Campaign is a bipartisan organization that works to advance consciousness based on sexuality, suicide, safe-sex, individual privacy, identity and gender expression; to ensure that all citizens can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in their community, without fear, threat or danger. We work to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity.
"Money cannot wipe the blood from murder's hands! Police officers like Scott Willinsky are wielding guns and intimidating our youth along with violating their civil rights. This is inexcusable and utterly deplorable," said Kyle Quandel, Marcus Memorial Campaign Director. "We will not rest until real justice is served for all who are terrorized in this manner. Somewhere along the line, "To Protect and Serve" was seriously forgotten when it came to Marcus. We will see to it that these police are removed to prevent a further threat to citizens including the youth whom they are supposed to be working to protect."
A gathering was held to celebrate the news that a new trial has been ordered in the civil lawsuit alleging that three Minersville police officers violated Wayman's privacy rights.
"Our understanding is that tonight is going to be a celebration of his life, and that there is going to be a new trial, and hopefully justice will be served," said Mark L. Sterling, Wayman's stepfather, who joined his wife and Wayman's mother, Madonna L. Sterling.
"Tonight we come out to speak against violence, hatred and misconduct," said Kyle N. Quandel, formerly of Minersville, who serves as director of the Marcus Memorial Campaign.
"We're doing this not only for Mark, but for anyone else who has ever found themselves in the same situation," Quandel added.
"The gay community has been very supportive," said Mark Sterling. "They seem to have come to his defense, more than anyone else."
"What a lot of straight people don't understand is why someone who is straight would kill himself because he is getting accused of being gay," Madonna Sterling said. "What we've come to understand, in talking to gay men, is how difficult a decision it is to come out, or to be forced to come out."
"Although the police have taken our son, destroyed our family and caused irreparable damages, we have proven that our elected officials must be held accountable for their actions," said Mark and Madonna Sterling, Marcus' parents. "We now call upon the public to support our crusade to remove these dangerous rogue police from Minersville and Borough - we demand that its police officers be adequately trained in sensitivity to sexual minority issues, and that a written policy be adopted. Rest assured, this is only the beginning. It's high time that the public hears of these atrocities, not just here in Schuylkill County but across the country."
The family of Marcus is pleading with the public to urge all concerned citizens to contact the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Patrick L. Meehan, 615 Chestnut Street, Suite 1250, Philadelphia, PA 19106) or call (215-861-8200) or fax (215-861-8609) to demand that his office undertake the prosecution of the police officers involved on federal criminal charges and a civil action for "Conspiracy to Deprive of Civil Rights" under title 42 of the United States Code.
Let us not forget that Marcus' death and this case has afforded all gay, lesbian and bisexual people the right to privacy under the 14th Amendent to our Constiution. Never before has this been argued in a High Court. However, as such a political and controversial issue, this story has yet to be truly exposed. Under our Constitutional right to privacy, this case hangs in balance of what the government deems private and not. A truly unprecedented case that has wide spread implications on all American rights.
Furthermore, how many more youth must perish, thinking that suicide is preferable that being labeled as gay?
Please also note that it is not our intention, in any way, to claim that all police are bad officers. Those who have a sworn oath and duty to protect and serve, we truly thank and honor. However, in this case, we are speaking of cops who obviously forgot about that very same sworn oath.