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Night at gallery ends in arrest

Gallery owner Bill Schramm is arrested outside Erotic Lounge in St. Petersburg on Friday night. Officers arrested Schramm and another man after a raid on the gallery. Earlier, police had received a complaint about a penis statue in front of the business.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Gallery owner Bill Schramm is arrested outside Erotic Lounge in St. Petersburg on Friday night. Officers arrested Schramm and another man after a raid on the gallery. Earlier, police had received a complaint about a penis statue in front of the business.

ST. PETERSBURG — The night started with a complaint about a giant penis statue.

Before it was over, police had pinned the owner of the art gallery to the ground and taken him to jail.

"Oh, my God," said gallery owner Bill Schramm, his glasses falling off in the scuffle. "This is the city's response to a penis. That's fabulous."

Officers arrested Schramm and another man after a raid Friday night on the Erotic Lounge in the Grand Central District of St. Petersburg. It wasn't the statue that they were arrested for.

Instead, investigators said they saw a nude man in the gallery, a violation of a city ordinance that prohibits places that serve alcohol from allowing the public display of genitals.

The gallery's show on Friday included a cypress penis statue larger than a person in front of the gallery. Schramm said he installed it there about 5 p.m.

Sometime during the evening, police received a complaint about the statue. A St. Petersburg police officer stopped by, told Schramm it was pornographic and told him to take it inside. He refused, saying it was art.

Later that evening, the show was still going on when police converged on the shop. As Schramm was talking to a St. Petersburg Times reporter about the statue, Sgt. Joe Collins dashed inside. Schramm put his hand up to stop him and tried to hold the door closed, police said.

In an instant, officers tackled Schramm, forcing him to the ground and cuffing his hands behind his back.

Officers sat him on a chair under the gallery's overhang while they searched the shop and detained the customers, telling them there was a liquor violation and asking to see identification.

Schramm, 46, was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and violating the city ordinance.

Inside, police found a nude man, Joshua M. Culotta, suspended from the ceiling in an aerial harness that Schramm earlier called a "chandelier."

"He was in plain view," said Collins, the investigating sergeant.

Officers said they arrested Culotta, 26, for violating the city ordinance. The man, who is deaf, seemed confused and told a reporter, "I was just modeling." As officers handcuffed him, he started to cry.

"He'll be okay. Misdemeanor charge," an officer told one of the man's friends.

The walls of the gallery were covered in erotic images. One painting depicted Superman in underwear with an erect penis.

Attached to a bathroom door of cloth were signs reading: "Human petting zoo," "Tipping allowed & encouraged," and "Dare to explore." Police said they found a man in his underwear inside the bathroom but nothing illegal.

Collins said the police began an investigation Friday night after hearing that the gallery was displaying genitals while serving alcohol. He would not specify how they knew, saying he wouldn't reveal an investigative tactic.

But because the business has a liquor license, police have a right of entry and don't need probable cause to go inside, Collins said.

"It's art," said Craig Christopher, 42, who said he had barely sipped his beer when police entered. "So what's the problem with that?"

Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or sgarry@sptimes.com.

Night at gallery ends in arrest 07/26/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 1, 2008 2:48pm]
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