the sex club shooting [San Francisco]

by Violet Blue on April 19, 2010

According to Terry Gould‘s fantastic book about swinging The Lifestyle, as of the book’s debut (in 2000) there were approximately 4 million swingers in the United States. These millions he told us, evolved from the practice of swinging (or “wife swapping”) whose roots were traced to US military bases in the 1950s, notably those in the California desert. The first official swinger’s organization started in Berkeley, California in the 1960s. Swingers have their own subculture and venues to play in. They have their own networks. There are a handful of swingers clubs here in the Bay Area and some are open to the public for occasional parties — though the attendees are carefully pre-screened by the proprietors.

A perfect example is club Twist, who had a party last saturday. It’s not a club like Power Exchange — there’s no sign out front, and to be allowed in you have to email them, pass the screening (send them photos of yourself), RSVP, and pay an admission fee. The rooms have modern furnishings, there is a dance floor and naked bartender, the club has atmosphere. Twist is known as a club for older couples; the 35 and up set. I was reminded about the club when I spotted a number of Casual Encounter ads on Craigslist bantering about the new location. Twist has moved to a new locale. I never saw the old one. And you have to admit that visiting a sex club that was also at the center of a crime — and coverup — is a very tempting Barbary Coast adventure, don’t you think?

As the story went, two years ago, Bay Area correctional officer John Smiley and his wife were at dinner in North Beach when he was seen by a parolee, who recognized the 6’8″ Smiley and opened fire, shooting the officer in the back. The gunshot left Smiley paralyzed from the waist down. It was a needless tragedy; his coworkers rallied together and did everything they could to raise funds for their colleague. State workers, not known for their wealth, raised over $30,000 for Smiley and his wife, running charity golf tournaments and online donation pages, including a website to help them out. According to the Scramento Bee, the 2nd annual John Smiley Golf Tournament in Stockton landed $11,000.

However, it’s no surprise to see that jsmiley.org is now missing in action. Smiley and his wife have had felony fraud charges filed against them in Sacramento Superior Court. It seems that John and Cynthia Smiley weren’t having a late night Italian meal the night of the shooting after all; they had been at Twist, where apparently things had gone very wrong. Smiley told the police what had happened at the club, but according to the court records Smiley also told the police he didn’t want to tell them “about the swingers club and hoped it would not get back to his department (CDCR).”

According to court documents, Smiley was shot at around 2am on April 27, 2008 after a tryst with his wife at Twist — the club’s former location at Pacific and Kearney. The couple found Twist online and ventured to the club after midnight where they hooked up with another couple in a room with a round bed. Smiley later told police that while he was having sex with the man’s wife, the condom broke and the husband became angry in a subsequent dispute allegedly telling Smiley, “I kill people for a living.”

The police were told that the Smileys left afterward, and were walking to their car when Smiley heard another car pull up. The husband from the Twist tryst emerged with a gun, court records state. While fleeing, Smiley was shot in the back. On March 27, 2009, one month before Smiley’s ability to file a workers’ compensation claim would lapse, he submitted a form indicating he had been shot by a former inmate. The SFPD had filed a report on the shooting, but a correctional sergeant later told investigators that Smiley had told her he was shot by a parolee while leaving a San Francisco restaurant.

All of this came to light when the insurance claim was filed and found to be fraudulent; what remains to be seen is anything that could have come from a police investigation into who pulled the trigger on Smiley, and why. In this case, the sexual shame Smiley has around visiting an adult, couples-only sex club is so acute that the original crime is lost in trying to sift facts from shame. Doesn’t Smiley want to see his gunman brought to justice? For the real crime here is not that a married couple did what many married couples do every weekend in America. Unless Smiley believes that the crime of consensual sex between adults is, in fact, so awful it’s worth getting shot and letting a criminal go free.

Unless there’s more to the story. Again, going to a sex club is not a crime. Let’s look at Smiley’s story (according to court documents sourced in The Sacramento Bee, where the story has been followed). He claims the condom broke, and the man went postal. If Smiley was indeed using a condom, as he claims, he was following the club rules. It actually takes quite a bit to break a condom and breakage is rare; rough sex without lubrication or using an oil based lubricant would lead to tearing. But would a broken condom really instigate a death threat on the spot?

We’ll never know for sure, but one thing is certain: in sex clubs, emotions run high. Swingers have rules, and many of these rules are to create an atmosphere of safety. This still doesn’t mean that when a man watches another man have sex with his own wife, that he’s going to be okay with it. Especially if the guy having sex with your wife is a big, African-American, former basketball star. (The same goes for all genders; what’s fine in sexual theory and fantasy feels a lot different when you make it reality and experience it in real life.)

The Smileys are still facing felony fraud charges for the workman’s comp claim which began the investigation that revealed the trip to Twist. The gunman was never caught and a criminal probe into the shooting began late last November. The Smileys’ next court date is May 5.

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