They went looking for stolen guitars.
But police in Attleboro, Mass., found something else instead: sex — and lots of it.
Two detectives were sent on Saturday night to check out the report of stolen instruments at a building just across the streets from the police station. Police say they found up to 60 people who paid $25 each to participate in a sadomasochistic sex party in this small mill town.
Police say that customers in the sex club whipped and paddled each other for kicks — but kicks they insist are illegal.
They say 38-year-old Stefany L. Reed, of New York City, spanked a woman with a paddle until she bled. This kind of sex, even when consensual, is illegal, prosecutors say.
“That type of consent is not an issue here,” said assistant District Attorney Roger Ferris.
Club leader Benjamin Davis, 23, was also arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer and possessing dangerous weapons used a sex toys. Whips, chains, paddles, a leather glove with tacks, and other types of paraphernalia were seized from the alleged club.
Both pleaded innocent Monday in Attleboro District Court and are free on $1,000 cash bail. Police say there could be more arrests.
Civil liberties activists denounced the arrests.
“In general, voluntary sexual conduct between consenting adults is constitutionally protected activity — or should be,” said Sarah Wunsch, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
“Don’t the Attleboro police have anything better to do? ... This is like returning to the days of Puritan Boston,” she said.
But police say the 1980 state Supreme Judicial Court case has established the legal precedent that people cannot consent to being assaulted in Massachusetts.
“Yes, the arrests were legal,” Detective Sgt. Kenneth Collins said Wednesday.
Ripe for Challenge
A lawyer who has handled similar cases says Massachusetts law may allow police to bring a charge of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon even when the assaulted person consents — but the law is ripe for a challenge.
“If you take the sex out of it, what is the difference between this and boxing and other dangerous activities that people engage in all the time?” said attorney John Ward of Boston and San Francisco.
Ward represented Kenneth Appleby in the 1980 case relied upon by police, Commonwealth v. Appleby. His client was charged with bullwhipping another man.
Appleby was convicted of assault and battery in the case.
“For millions of Americans now, this is common accepted behavior. ... I think the real issue is whether you can police people’s private lives simply because their activities are bizarre,” Ward said.
Gerald FitzGerald, a spokesman for the Bristol district attorney, said the office would be taking a look at the charges.
“We’re always ready, willing and able to listen to counsel,” he said.
There was no phone listing for Davis in Hudson, N.H. His lawyer for the arraignment, Richard Leonard of Reading, Mass., didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.
‘Simply a Private Party’
Reed’s lawyer, Bruce Gladstone of Providence, R.I., proclaimed her innocence.
“What I can state is that this is a complete misidentification, that the statements in the police affidavit as to what this detective allegedly saw my client involved in are absolutely false,” Gladstone said.
“My client is traumatized obviously and is an innocent victim. It’s a miscarriage of justice. It’s a misidentification,” he said. “My client is a victim of the system.”
Asked what Reed was doing at the party, Gladstone said, “This was simply a private party. I will leave it at that.”
Crime, or Sexual Privacy?
Mindy Chateauvert, a spokesman for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, said that most states outlaw sadomasochistic behavior, either through the application of assault and battery laws or through laws specifically against sadomasochism.
A few, she said, “recognize that this is not something for the state deal with. It’s an issue of sexual privacy.”
Many local residents were surprised by the news. Nancy Stoddard runs her sewing business just down the hall in the old factory building where the sex party was busted. She describe the types of people and businesses she shares space with.
“We have a church, some psychologists,” she said. And? “Yes, a sex club apparently.”
“They’re adults,” said Attleboro resident Amanda Falls. “They should be able to do whatever in their private lives and I don’t want to hear about it, you know?”
David Muir of ABCNEWS affiliate WCVB in Boston and The Associated Press contributed to this report.