Police arrest a man at a Bellevue condo during the prostitution sting in August. Photo courtesy of the Bellevue Police Department

Police arrest a man at a Bellevue condo during the prostitution sting in August. Photo courtesy of the Bellevue Police Department

Error With Recording Device Leads to Dismissal of 61 Cases From Prostitution Bust

One defendant’s attorney discovered the oversight.

Editor’s note: The Bellevue Police Department initially reported on Friday that audio was captured due to a mistake of a King County Sheriff’s Office employee who was tasked with managing the cameras, however, the department did not have complete information at that time. This article reflects updated information on Monday.

More than half of the cases in an August prostitution bust in Bellevue will be thrown out because of a mistake made during the undercover sting.

The Bellevue Police Department and King County Sheriff’s Office launched “Operation On Demand” by posing as prostitutes as they gathered evidence from online buyers of sex. The week-long operation resulted in the arrest of 110 for patronizing a prostitute.

Yet, according to an announcement issued by the city of Bellevue Friday, 61 of those cases have been discarded. The reason, according to Bellevue police spokesman Seth Tyler, was because an error caused hidden cameras to record audio during the operation and Washington state law requires two-party consent to the recording of audio conversations.

The Bellevue Police Department is unsure at this time whether the error was due to a misstep by a King County Sheriff’s Office employee or a technical error with the cameras.

“We don’t know where this malfunction occurred, we don’t know if it was an operator or mechanical problems and that’s what we’re trying to triage right now,” Bellevue Police Department Chief Steve Mylett said. “We don’t know specifically where this will fall to but I can tell you I’m very convinced this was unintentional.”

Mylett said there was a block of cases captured with a start and end point where there wasn’t audio captured during, and then another point in time during the investigation when audio was captured with the same equipment, machinery and operator. This, Mylett said, leads him to question if it was a failure of the equipment.

Tyler said this error was discovered by a lawyer of one of the 110 who were charged with patronizing prostitutes during the prosecution of the case.

That caused the city of Bellevue’s prosecutors to look into the other cases. With 61 impacted, the Bellevue city attorney’s office dismissed the cases, however, the remaining 59 will go through the judicial process.

“While this turn of events is disheartening, it is important to remain focused on the goal of operations such as this: to eradicate human trafficking and its related crimes wherever they exist,” Mylett said in a news release. “The mistakes made in this case were just that, mistakes. We will learn from these missteps and ensure we do not repeat them in future operations. Rest assured, there will be future undercover operations such as this one to achieve our goal.”

The King County Sheriff’s Office didn’t provide comment on the possibility that it was human error that led to the dismissals.

Mylett said Bellevue Police Department Major John McCracken, a commander in their investigations unit, will do a fact-finding process in which he will speak to the detectives involved to find out how the error occurred.

Although, the police department still considers the 59 remaining cases a success.

“We arrested 110 people caught red-handed,” he said in an interview. “We’re quite sure we would have secured convictions. If this leads to somebody who needs to get help because of addiction or it changes their behavior, that’s great. If it causes someone to think twice because they never know if the person they’re interacting with is a police office, then that’s great too.”

Mylett said his detectives have reported a decrease in demand for prostitution since their operations were launched, yet, there’s still work to be done to combat human trafficking.

Operation On Demand is part of the Bellevue Police Department’s human trafficking investigation of “the League,” a group of self-identified prostitution “hobbyists” who frequented a sex trafficking site, The Review Board, and a half dozen brothels in Bellevue that were raided and shutdown in January 2016.

news@seattleweekly.com

More in News & Comment

Trouble in Tacoma

A cannabis producer has been shut down for “numerous and substantial violations.”

Protestors gather at SeaTac’s Families Belong Together rally. Photo by Alex Garland
Seattle’s Separated Children

A local non-profit houses several immigrant youths who were separated from their parents at the border. But for how long?

Between Seattle’s $15 minimum wage and the new no-poach cause agreement, Washington has been leading the nation in advancing fast food workers’ rights. Photo by Fibonacci Blue/Flickr
Washington AG’s Deal Grants Mobility to Fast Food Workers Nationwide

Seven fast food chains have agreed to end no-poaching policies that economists say cause wage stagnation.

The Carlton Complex wildfire burned in north-central Washington state in 2014. Photo by Jason Kriess/Wikimedia Commons
King County Burn Ban Starts This Weekend

Other counties across the state have already enacted similar restrictions.

Numerous complaints against King County Sheriff’s deputies for issues like excessive force and improper search and seizure weren’t investigated due to internal misclassification, a new report says. Photo by Oran Viriyincy/Flickr
Report Finds Complaints Against King County Sheriff’s Deputies Weren’t Investigated

An outside review says that allegations of excessive force and racially-biased policing weren’t pursued.

Last spring, Sarah Smith (second from left) travelled to Tennessee to meet with other Brand New Congress candidates including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (right). Photo courtesy Brand New Congress
Can Sarah Smith Be Seattle’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

The 30-year-old democratic socialist is challenging a long-serving incumbent in Washington’s 9th Congressional District.

Dianne Laurine (left) and Shaun Bickley (right), Commissioners for the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities, say that the city didn’t consult with the disabled community prior to passing the straw ban. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Straw Ban Leaves Disabled Community Feeling High and Dry

Although the city says that disabled people are exempted from the ban, the impacted community says that businesses haven’t gotten the message loud and clear.

Most Read