TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — Myron Pope said he’s ready to move on.
A guilty plea by the former University of Alabama vice president on a misdemeanor charge of soliciting prostitution was set aside by a judge Monday after Pope paid fees and completed a “Johns Education and Awareness Program.”
Now, Pope’s lawyer said his client was ready “to put this whole thing” behind him. Whether he knows it or not, he already has a head start.
Unlike others arrested for soliciting prostitution across the state, Pope’s arrest photo was never released to the public. His mugshot was never circulated on social media or news websites – never archived into search engines to be recalled at a moment’s notice.
Instead, Pope’s mugshot was protected from publication by the city of Tuscaloosa’s interpretation of a law whose authors say was meant to protect victims, not those like him.
Pope was one of 15 men arrested by the West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force on Feb. 17 for soliciting prostitution, the result of a two-day undercover operation in Northport. He resigned his executive position at the University of Alabama following his arrest.
“I have difficult news to share today,” UA President Stuart Bell wrote in a press release announcing Pope’s resignation.
After the sting, authorities emphasized that the arrests were part of an ongoing effort to curb demand for sexual services.
“If buyers were not seeking commercial sexual services, sex trafficking would no longer be profitable,” task force commander Capt. Phil Simpson said. “We hope these operations targeting buyers show that we take this very seriously. Our goal is to prevent future exploitation of human trafficking victims who are forced or coerced into prostitution.”
No mugshots of those arrested for soliciting prostitution were released by law enforcement.
Instead, Stephanie Taylor, a spokesperson for the Tuscaloosa Police Department, told members of the media she was prevented by the Alabama Safe Harbor Act from releasing images of those arrested. That law, passed in 2016, was aimed at protecting victims of sex trafficking.
One provision of the legislation, which was supported by both Republicans and Democrats, outlawed the release of mugshots “upon the arrest of a person for the crime of prostitution.”
“A photograph of a person taken by a law enforcement agency upon the arrest of a person for the crime of prostitution under Division 2, Article 3, Chapter 12, Title 13A, Code of Alabama 1975, is not a public record and may not be published in any printed or electronic media or provided to any person without an order of a district court judge with jurisdiction over the person’s criminal case,” the law states.
Taylor said Tuscaloosa’s city attorney has interpreted the language to cover not just arrests for prostitution itself, but any crime listed alongside prostitution in the mentioned portion of Alabama law.
“We have asked the Office of the City Attorney to look at the Act, and their interpretation is that the code section referenced includes anyone charged with a crime related to prostitution, not necessarily prostitution itself,” Taylor said in a statement. “So that will be policy regarding the release of mugshots unless the code section is amended or legal counsel instructs us otherwise.”
Under Tuscaloosa’s stated policy, those arrested for solicitation, providing facilities for prostitution, or operating a “house of prostitution or prostitution enterprise” are protected from having their images released publicly upon arrest.
However, authors of the Alabama Safe Harbor Act say Tuscaloosa’s interpretation of the law is wrong. Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, was one of the bill’s sponsors in the Alabama House of Representatives. She said the intent of the act is clear and is not meant to protect those accused of soliciting prostitution.
“The intent of the legislation is to only protect the picture of the victims,” Coleman said.
Coleman said she is confused by the city’s interpretation of the law she helped champion. Until being contacted for this story, she had never heard of such an interpretation of the act.
“Anybody who breaks the law – especially something so egregious as a conduit to human trafficking – the public needs to know that person is out there,” she said. “They don’t get a chance to be protected even if they happen to have a job at a university.”
In fact, Coleman has gone even further, advocating for new legislation that wouldn’t just allow – but would require – police in the state to publish the mugshots of those arrested for trying to pay for sexual acts.
“So maybe they’ll think about their wives, their children, and what it’s going to look like if their mugshot is out there for the world to see,” she said.
Shaming “johns”–those who pay for sexual services– for attempting to pay for sex is nothing new. A 2012 report prepared for the Department of Justice documented shaming policies were in use in the US as far back as 1975 in Eugene, Oregon.
Some oppose the tactic, including those against the release of mugshots of anyone who has not been convicted of a crime. But proponents of “john shaming” point to data that suggests when it comes to curbing demand for sex, shaming may be somewhat effective. For example, the DOJ’s report noted that “four of the five consequences that men most frequently cite as deterrents involve others finding out that they have had sex with prostituted persons.”
Coleman is a believer that mugshots may provide a deterrent against soliciting prostitution. And while she’s not yet been able to require the publication of mugshots of “johns,” she’s certain that the law she helped pass does not prevent it.
“I know what the intent was,” she said. “This was about protecting the victims, not the johns.”