PHILADELPHIA — Police are not responsible for the death of a high school football player who killed himself after officers allegedly threatened to tell his family he was gay, a federal jury decided late Wednesday.
Jurors cleared three police officers in a civil lawsuit that claimed they caused 18-year-old Marcus Wayman’s death in 1997 by threatening to tell his grandfather he was gay.
Officers approached Wayman and a 17-year-old male friend in a car. Police frisked the teens and found the younger one with two condoms.
Officers Scott Willinsky and Thomas Hoban took them to the station on underage drinking charges.
Scott Willinsky later testified that both boys conceded they had stopped to have sex, although the 17-year-old disputes making the statement. Willinsky allegedly asked if they were "queer" and threatened to tell their families they were gay.
Wayman told his friend he was going to kill himself. A few hours later, he found the keys to the gun cabinet at his home and shot himself in the head, according to court testimony.
Wayman’s mother, Madonna Sterling, filed a civil suit over her son’s death, charging that the town and three of its police officers — Joseph Willinsky, Scott Willinsky and Hoban — violated Wayman’s right to privacy. Joseph Willinsky is the police chief and father of Scott Willinsky.
A spokesman for the Lesbian and Gay Rights project of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Sterling, said an appeal would be difficult.
"People feel this sense of progress. We turn on our TV’s and watch ‘Will &Grace’ and think that things are better for gay people in America. Then we turn around and see this kind of thing," Eric Ferrero said. "This kind of stuff still goes on. What happened in Minersville wasn’t an anomaly."
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