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

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

Error leads to 61 prostitution cases thrown out from Bellevue bust | Update

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 the Bellevue Police Department’s August prostitution bust will be thrown out because of an error in 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.

More in News

Bellevue Deputy Mayor Lynne Robinson and Mayor John Chelminiak share Bellevue’s future strategic plans. Photo courtesy of Tim Kelley/Bellevue Downtown Association
City officials talk on Bellevue’s advancement as global destination

Deputy Mayor Lynne Robinson and Mayor John Chelminiak spoke at the BDA’s April breakfast.

Death of 17-year-old girl no longer considered ‘suspicious’

The Snohomish teen is thought to have overdosed.

A photo of the DUI crash courtesy of the Bellevue Police Department
Suspected arrested for DUI after crashing into curb | Police blotter for April 11-15

The blotter is provided by the Bellevue Police blog and is not a list of incidents in Bellevue.

A Canadian safe consumption site in Lethbridge. Photo supplied by ARCHES in Lethbridge
County plans for second safe drug site on hold

Following intense resistance to the proposal from the suburbs, county officials are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Bellevue hosts open house on toll lane expansion

State and local officials met with residents about proposed expansions of toll lanes on I-405.

Local activist groups hold rally outside Dino Rossi fundraiser

Fuse Washington put a call out for people to rally after Rossi did not respond to a request for comment regarding funding from the gun industry.

Bellevue police arrest man in ‘uniform’ who stole $100,000 diamond ring

The diamond and the man’s accomplice are still missing.

Bellevue seeks to curb cut-through commuter traffic

City hearing more concerns from residents who don’t want commuter traffic in their neighborhoods.

Enatai Beach Park. Courtesy of the city of Bellevue
City hears Shoreline Master Program update

The comprehensive update has been in the works since 2008.

Most Read