City Fakes Obscenity Charges Against Adult Store

TWIN FALLS, Id.—Seems somebody in Twin Falls government didn't like the "ADULTS XXX" sign hanging on Allen Nagel's Smokin' Head Smoke Shop, so even though they recognized the sign as completely legal, city officials nonetheless conspired to have it removed—and of course, the simplest way was to investigate Smokin' Head, as well as two other adult stores, Karnation and Enchantress, for "obscenity."

"It is my understanding that the sign complies with our sign ordinance and does not violate any state laws," City Manager Tom Courtney wrote to fellow city officials on November 16, according to a story in the Twin Falls Times-News. "If that is not correct, we need to discuss. I don’t think this is the kind of thing we want at the entrance to the city. The question is what can we do about it?"

What they did about it was to send letters to the stores claiming that the police had received complaints about the three stores, and that actions "up to and including arrest" could occur if the stores didn't comply with state obscenity laws.

The harassment was apparently instigated by an email received by Mayor Don Hall on October 8 complaining about the size and color of Smokin' Head's sign, and one month later, police officer Luke Allen emailed the mayor and other officials that he had told Nagel that "it was probably a good idea, from a community standpoint, if he didn’t draw any unwanted attention to his business." Allen wrote that Nagel's response was that the sign "probably" would be removed. However, it was during Allen's early November visit to the store that he first noticed the adult videos for sale there, but wrote in his email that "they are not visible from the outside or by anyone who shouldn’t be seeing them."

Roughly one week later, after the city had received another complaint about the sign, Officer Allen wrote another email, noting that the sign didn't violate any city or state laws regarding profanity, but worried what such complaints might mean to city officials.

"[City Attorney] Fritz [Wonderlich] basically said we can ask him to take it down, but we really can't force him to remove it based on the profanity code," the Times-News reported that Allen wrote on November 16. "If we get more complaints let me know and I’ll call Allen [Nagel] back and tell him we have gotten more complaints. The problem is that The Enchantress has XXX adds [sic] on the TV and Karnation sells stuff as well. This is gunna [sic] be a mess."

What Nagel's or the other stores' response was to Officer Allen's contacts with them is not known, but on November 18, the Twin Falls Police Department drafted a letter to be sent to the stores advising them that they were being investigated, and which, at the insistence of Police Chief Jim Munn that the letter "be more assertive," included the threat of arrest of the stores' owners in they did not comply with the department's unspecified charges.

The inclusion of Karnation and Enchantress as recipients of the letter was strange, since the city had received no complaints whatsoever against those stores, though in an interview conducted yesterday, police Lt. Craig Stotts told the Times-News that he didn't know why Karnation and Enchantress had been sent the letters.

"I don’t know where the complaints came from," Stotts said, for the first time suggesting that there had been complaints against the two stores. "I know that years past we had sent the businesses a letter because we had heard they were selling illegal material, adult material, pornographic material."

"Adult material" and "pornographic material" are perfectly legal under Idaho law, and to date, no one has specified what "illegal material" the stores may have been selling.

Officer Allen was troubled by his department's actions in sending the letters.

"This is not just going to be us against Allen Nagel, but could turn out to be us against the Porn industry," Allen worried in a November 19 email. "I think we need to not go in half cocked on this one or we may get bit in the ass."

At this point, Nagel has removed the "XXX" portion of his sign, but the city has not backed off from its threats. Stotts defended sending the letter, deeming it "a very reasonable response" ... even though not a single person has yet been identified as complaining about any of the stores' contents.