ABILENE — An Abilene couple plans to renew a decade-old fight against the Lion’s Den Adult Superstore by presenting a petition seeking to empanel a grand jury to explore whether the store promotes obscenity.
By ERIN MATHEWS
The Salina Journal
Phillip Cosby, who spearheaded protests and sought legal remedies when the store just west of Abilene on Interstate Highway 70 first opened, has once again collected signatures on a petition aimed at getting criminal charges filed against the store’s owners.
He said he plans to file the petition bearing about 400 signatures Thursday in Dickinson County District Court.
“Here we are 10 years later,” he said. “This is unfinished business.”
Cosby said exactly who the owners are will be something a grand jury will have to determine.
Cosby said he and his wife, Cathy, returned to live in Abilene a year ago after several years of residing in the Kansas City area and working for various groups promoting family values by fighting the damaging effects of pornography and obscenity.
He said the negative consequences of easily accessible pornography in cyberspace in “rewiring a whole generation of children” are becoming apparent. He said “sexting” has become a huge problem, and he has worked to raise awareness of the effects of the sexualization of American culture.
He said pornography is not protected speech and local communities “can put it into the crucible of the courtroom.” “If that grand jury does say, ‘This is not us,' an indictment will follow,” he said.
Cosby said he currently is state director of the American Family Association of Kansas and Missouri. He said his previous fight against the Lion’s Den, in which store owners were indicted but never prosecuted, had “national repercussions.”
He said he has assisted in similar efforts in Missouri and even participated in debates about the issue in Ireland.
Now that he is back in Abilene, Cosby said he hosted a lunch before Christmas that was attended by 19 Abilene area pastors. The pastors signed a resolution agreeing that pornography was harmful and began collecting signatures on the petition, he said.
The petition requests that within 60 days a grand jury be summoned to investigate alleged violations of the Kansas obscenity statute.
According to statute, the petition will be reviewed by the county election official to determine that it was signed by a sufficient number of registered Dickinson County voters. That would be 100 plus 2 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor in Dickinson County in the most recent election. Cosby said he is confident that the petition he is submitting will contain the 270 signatures needed.
Cosby said he testified before the House judiciary committee last year on weaknesses in the grand jury process and changes were enacted to strengthen the ability of a person petitioning for change to be heard by a grand jury.
He said that under the changes enacted, the petitioner must be the first person to testify, and the grand jury, which consists of 15 randomly selected people, must hear the petitioner’s testimony before deciding whether to utilize the services of a county prosecutor or an independent attorney.
He said the grand jury can take up to three months to investigate an issue, but he doesn’t expect the Dickinson County grand jury to require more than a week or two to determine whether there is probable cause to file criminal charges.
If the grand jury issues an indictment, County Attorney Daryl Hawkins will have to decide whether to file formal charges.
“The county attorney has a lot of power in this, and he'll soberly consider what his next step is,” Cosby said.
When the store, which sells sex toys and explicit videos, opened in 2003, Cosby helped form an opposition group – Citizens for Strengthening Community Virtues. Group members picketed the store, threatened to report customers to their employers and circulated a petition to empanel a grand jury to charge the Lions Den with promoting obscenity.
A grand jury empaneled at that time came back with a 29-count indictment. However, the case was thrown out after a judge found that signatures on the petition didn’t meet state requirements.
Ten misdemeanor charges later were filed by the county attorney related to 10 different sex toys sold at the store, but those charges were dropped after a section of the obscenity statute was found to be “fatally flawed,” Cosby said. After the Legislature corrected the law, charges were not refiled.
Cosby said that since the last Lion’s Den grand jury was empaneled, there have been 10 other grand juries exploring issues of obscenity in other Kansas cities.
He said the changes he sought in statutes related to grand juries did not stem from his personal experiences in the prior grand jury process in Dickinson County. He said they reflected problems experienced during other Kansas efforts to obtain a grand jury indictment.
Cosby said Kansas is one of only six states that allow grand juries to be summoned by petition.
“Kansas now has the best example of what an independent investigation should look like,” he said.
Like freedom of the press, Cosby said, grand juries function as another check on the power of the government.