Sex Toys and Videotape

Adult-shop raids raise the issue of what's nice and what's vice

Judge James Anderson will be helping Santa this holiday season examining the contents of 70 boxes of toys. He'll be inspecting almost 2,200 cock rings, artificial vaginas, vibrators, butt plugs and dildos -- trying to decide what's naughty or nice.

The judge says he's a "pretty hip guy," but he admits he's lost trying to identify many items on the inventory list.

"Vibrators I understand, but what's a Eurasian delight?" asks Anderson. "What's a swell guy? An anal expander? A love bud? Or a sidewinder? A midnight torch? A chickita vibe?"

Greg Houston

Anderson's task comes four years after those items were collected by Houston vice cops. In August 1995 police raided sex-shop owner Gino Barone's temporary warehouse on Telephone Road, arrested the warehouse manager and confiscated 70 boxes of booty. Officers stored it in a HPD warehouse and apparently hoped it would go away, Anderson says. It didn't. When they were moving to a new location, police were clearing out the warehouse and found the stuff.

They notified Barone that they were going to destroy it. He wanted it back.

This is the second time the HPD vice squad has sat on Barone's dildos. In November 1993 the Houston Press reported that almost 500 erotic items were seized during raids on two of Barone's Video Hits stores.

In 1996 Barone sued the city in federal court for $105,000 in damages for lost inventory. That suit is still pending. The county reported that the items had been destroyed without a forfeiture hearing.

Barone, who owns four adult-merchandise shops, doesn't want that to happen again. For the latest forfeiture hearing he wore a navy-blue suit and matching snakeskin shoes. Sitting with him was Dennis Cook, who owns Eros 1207 on Spencer Highway in South Houston, and Sue Johnson, owner of Tres Chic Lingerie on Jones Road at FM 1960. Both their shops have been raided recently, and they want to form a coalition.

Each time it has been pick 'n' choose as to what the vice cops confiscate. Although the law states that dildos and artificial vaginas are illegal, it doesn't specify for the rest. It just outlaws things that are "patently offensive" and have "no redeeming social value."

"The vagueness of the law is so irritating," says Johnson, who estimates the confiscated inventory is worth $3,000 wholesale.

She says she handed one of her pink artificial vaginas to a vice officer during the raid, but he didn't take it because there wasn't anything kinky written on the box. Police did, however, take a plain green vibrator called an "emerald screw" because it said something about ecstatic orgasms on the box.

"What is it, a sexist law?" Johnson asks. "I had some tits that you masturbate on -- the box says 'fuck my tits' on it -- and he didn't take them either. I was furious. I shoved it at 'em."

When they handcuffed her clerks, Johnson asked them to use the fur-lined cuffs she sells in the store so they wouldn't bruise the ladies.

At the hearing before Anderson, defense lawyers and Chuck Noll, the D.A.'s misdemeanor division chief, argued over the statute.

The lawyers didn't know where to begin, Anderson says, because the law contradicts itself. They toyed with the idea of letting Barone bond out his dildos for $10 a head. Barone just wanted it to end.

"I'll give them to them free for their parties if they just leave us alone," Barone says.

Anderson told prosecutors they should give back the butt plugs and cock rings since technically they are legal. He decided that if the prosecution didn't introduce the evidence in court it couldn't be forfeited.

Five boxes were sitting in the courtroom. But Anderson wanted all 70.

"Bring it down," the judge said, reading over the list of confiscated items. "A love glove or a sidewinder -- I don't know what that is. I'd love to see it."

And he will, on December 15. In a video deposition, he'll inspect the 2,174 items. He'll decide what's offensive and what's an okay "marital aid."

Anderson says he didn't know what a cock ring was, but he did a little research over the weekend and found out that it prevents premature ejaculation.

"Certainly for couples that is socially redeeming," Anderson says. "I got no problem having them out there."

Vibrators too.

"Who says a woman shouldn't enjoy sexual stimulation in privacy or with others?" Anderson asks.

Not the judge.

"To me, sexual stimulation of an adult, by yourself and with others, is socially redeeming," Anderson says. "This should be really bizarre."

E-mail Wendy Grossman at wendy.grossman@ houstonpress.com.

 
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