Nine of the 12 men arrested last month in the Science Center men's room admitted yesterday to the reduced charge of indecent exposure.
During hearings before Cambridge District Court Judge Arthur Sherman '50, the charges against the nine were continued without a finding after the defendants admitted there were sufficient facts to convict them.
According to police records, the men were originally charged with open and gross lewdness, a felony which carries a possible state prison term of three years. But during yesterday's session, Assistant District Attorney Wendy Murphy dropped the felony charges and replaced them with misdemeanor charges of indecent exposure.
Murphy and attorneys representing the arrested men agreed that each defendant should be assessed $200 in court costs, but Sherman overrode their recommendation.
Saying that he was seeking a middle ground between his usual policy and the one agreed upon by the parties, Sherman imposed a $300 charge on each defendant and ordered that the charges be automatically dismissed in December if the men comply with probation requirements.
Sherman also took the opportunity to discourage the nine from returning to the Science Center. "The particular locale of the offense is off-limits," Sherman warned.
The Science Center men's room, where the arrests occurred, has reportedly been a focus of anonymous sexual activity between gay men. Several building employees have complained that they have been sexually harassed while using the bathroom.
In recent weeks, gay student leaders have criticized the police for what they describe as the use of excessive force during the arrests. The students have also questioned why the men were charged with a felony offense.
The particular circumstances of the arrests were not discussed in court yesterday. Murphy simply stated that each defendant "exposed himself" in the Science Center bathroom.
All the defendants declined Sherman's offer to question Murhpy about the facts in the case. Each of the arrested men also waived his right to a jury trial on the charges.
According to attorneys, none of the men had any previous criminal record.
Admitting sufficient facts is "tantamount to a guilty plea," according to Sherman. But under the terms of the agreement reached yesterday, the defendants will have no criminal record if they obey probation conditions through the end of the year.
In a meeting with gay student leaders last week, Vice President and General Counsel Daniel Steiner '54 told the students that the University would ask to have the charges against the men "continued without a finding." Yesterday Steiner confirmed that a representative of the Harvard Police Department had spoken to the state prosecutor on behalf of Harvard.
Asked yesterday about the decision to bring lesser charges against those arrested in the men's room, Harvard police Chief Paul E. Johnson said, "We're not taking a position that anything worse should have happened. Our only objective and aim is to stop certain inappropriate behavior."