Heavy foot traffic, holes drilled into stalls and graphic graffiti tipped off Manhattan Beach lifeguards that something was happening in the beach bathrooms at Marine Avenue.
A weeks-long sweep of the area resulted in the arrests of 18 men suspected of using the public restroom for illegal sexual activity, said Stephanie Martin with the Manhattan Beach Police Department.
Charges levied against the men include invasion of privacy – for using a peephole in a restroom, resisting arrest, indecent exposure, soliciting or engaging in lewd conduct in a public place – all misdemeanors.
They were arrested while detectives swept the area six times between March 7 and March 23. On March 9, they arrested eight people, the most in one shot for this investigation, Martin said.
During an initial surveillance operation, detectives made their first arrest within minutes, Martin said.
Detectives monitored chat rooms and social media sites, which were buzzing with discussions about what was going on in the bathrooms.
Digital gossip combined with lifeguards’ noticing some men staying in the bathroom for longer than an hour at a time, and recognized repeat restroom users.
This part of Manhattan Beach may have been particularly susceptible to this activity because of its design, police said.
This is “one of the only restrooms on our beach that had doors on the stalls,” Martin said. “Those doors have since been removed.”
Holes drilled into the stall partitions were repaired, and the next day, were drilled out again, she said.
An investigation into similar activities happened about a decade ago, but the amount of people involved did not rise to this level of the latest sting, Martin said.
“Undercover operations in public restrooms will be periodically conducts,” Manhattan Beach police chief Eve Irvine wrote in a statement released Tuesday.
Lifeguards and county law enforcement are responsible for maintaining the beaches, but Martin said this incident prompted more attention in that regard.
All but one of the men arrested have been released with a court date; one has been released pending further investigation.