BUFORD — A Gwinnett State Court jury of six needed no longer than 12 minutes last week to declare Kenneth Butler not guilty of lewd conduct in a Buford Kmart bathroom, his attorney said.
Butler was cited in a wave of male sex crackdowns earlier this year that eventually netted six Gwinnett-area men. According to authorities, the men were either seeking or having sex in the bathroom of the same Big K retailer, which was promoted online as a hotspot for “cruising.”
Defense attorneys for Butler, 45, formerly the lead janitor at a Gwinnett special needs school, called his arrest a “debacle” on the part of an overzealous vice unit. The allegations have permanently scarred his reputation, attorneys claim.
Police and prosecutors defended the unit’s actions this week, noting Butler is the only one of six suspects to be exonerated.
“(Officers) had an overwhelming amount of probable cause” to file charges, said Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Edwin Ritter.
Butler’s attorney, Michael Carvalho, said fallout from the allegations was severe.
Charged in March with loitering for sexual purposes, Butler was fired from his job with Gwinnett Public Schools, his own children were bullied, and he suffered “extreme humiliation” that has worsened the intestinal problems that landed him in the bathroom in the first place, Carvalho said.
Butler was acquitted Oct. 20 after a two-day trial. Defense attorneys countered testimony from four police officers and Kmart representatives with a doctor who corroborated Butler’s medical woes, Carvalho said.
“This is just a shocking abuse of police power,” Carvalho said. “They absolutely violated his civil rights. Police officers are not supposed to act like this.”
Rosanna Szabo, Gwinnett County Solicitor, said a key police report was suppressed from jurors that could have tilted the table in favor of the prosecution.
“I believe, had the jury heard all that had transpired, the outcome would likely have been different,” Szabo said.
Each of the other five cases has been adjudicated.
The two men cited the same day as Butler pleaded no contest in Gwinnett Recorder’s Court to charges of loitering for sexual activity. They were fined $270 — the maximum for the charge — and ordered to stay out of Kmart, Szabo said.
The other three men arrested by officers either pleaded guilty or no contest in court earlier this year. They received fines of $200 or less, or were given credit for time served in jail.
Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Brian Kelly defended all the cases, saying officers acted by the book.
“Vice investigators conducted themselves according to established policy and procedure,” Kelly said. “They established ample probable cause for Mr. Butler.”
The retailer, one of two in Gwinnett, has repeatedly declined to comment on the cases.
A closed-circuit camera system outside the restroom doors — along with a small brass lock on the stall Butler was allegedly in — is a recent addition, Carvalho said. Small metal plates are bolted between the stall and the handicap-accessible one next to it, which Carvalho contends are there to cover a hole between the stalls used for sex.
Ritter, the police spokesman, said Kmart has since hired a security firm to monitor the bathrooms. Police were initially tipped off to the situation by Kmart officials, who said the bathrooms were gaining notoriety as a male sex hotspot via a website, Ritter said.
In Butler’s case, Ritter said a vice officer observed him masturbating and that he admitted as much when interviewed afterward.
Carvalho said his client intends to pursue civil lawsuits against “all persons and entities who participated in the actions taken against Butler,” but he could give no timeframe.
Carvalho said he fears his client’s name can never be totally cleared, as the case was widely covered by media.
“If you Google his name, all you get is the bad stuff,” Carvalho said. “That’s the viral world we live in.”
Butler, in a statement released to the Daily Post by his attorneys, said the charges will follow him forever.
“I am just thankful that the jury confirmed my innocence,” the statement reads. “I am hopeful that the police and Kmart will be investigated and held responsible for their conduct.”