Three women who are current or former employees of a Harris County, Texas, constable's precinct claimed in a lawsuit filed Monday that they were subject to sexual abuse and harassment from their commanding officers who had recruited them to work undercover to fight human trafficking.
The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Houston, alleges that “prostitution stings soon grew into a booze-fueled playground for sexual exploitation in which young, untrained deputies were subject to disgusting abuse.”
It claimed that high-ranking officers in Harris County Precinct 1’s Human Trafficking Unit handpicked female deputies for undercover operations because they were “young, attractive and Latina” and fit the personal taste of a commanding officer.
Constable Alan Rosen from the Precinct 1 Office characterized the lawsuit as "an effort to impugn the good reputation" of the office and that an internal investigation found no violation of law or policy.
"My sensitivity toward victims remains our highest priority. To this day, not one of these plaintiffs has ever made a formal complaint," Rosen said. "Each employee interviewed was given the opportunity, in a safe environment, to express any concerns. Their own interview statements contradict many of the allegations in the lawsuit."
Rosen said he had a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and assault.
During the sting operations, undercover male officers would pose as johns while female officers would pose as prostitutes, Attorney Cordt Akers said during a news conference Monday. When a sex worker arrived, an arrest would be made and that person would be interviewed so that "arrests up the chain could be made," Akers said.
The complaint alleges that the commanding officer was often intoxicated and would kiss and lick the undercover female officers. After the operations, both he and another officer would allegedly make inappropriate comments.
The suit also alleges that one of the women was sent undercover into a massage parlor where another member of the police department's staff had been sexually assaulted. She was told to wait to be sexually assaulted by a known sexual deviant and then give a signal that other officers could raid the premises, according to the complaint.
When the women spoke up, they “were ridiculed by their commanders, retaliated against by their abusers, and quietly reassigned to less prestigious duties,” the suit claims.
Akers, who identified the women as Liz Gomez, Marissa Sanchez, Felecia McKinney during Monday's news conference, said the "astoundingly courageous women" had "been through appalling horrors."
In addition, both the precinct’s constable and the Harris County district attorney’s office knew about the abuse but “refused to take any action and rebuffed anyone who complained,” the suit alleges.
He said the alleged abuse is "some of the most unspeakable police misconduct any of us have ever seen," adding that it was the tax payers who funded the operations.
Brock Akers, another attorney on the case, said he had "thought I'd seen it all."
"I was wrong, I was so sadly wrong," Akers said.
"Leadership gave in to their own desires, turning the female deputies they commanded into the sex exploitation victims they were arguably trying to save," he added.
Dane Schiller, spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said in a statement that the prosecutor's office has not been presented with evidence of a crime.
“Anytime we receive an allegation from an officer accusing a fellow officer of impropriety, we connect them with appropriate investigative entities," Schiller said. "In this matter, our Sex Crimes Division quickly asked Constable Pct. 1 Internal Affairs to investigate whether there was evidence of a crime and Ms. (Jacquelyn) Aluotto has represented she contacted the Texas Rangers. Nothing has been presented to prosecutors by either agency.”
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The complaint also claims that a fourth woman, Jacquelyn Aluotto, who worked as a human trafficking advocate in the unit, was ignored when she raised concerns about the sting operations. She was then fired after giving an interview to internal affairs about the harassment, assault and bullying in the unit, according to the suit.
The four women are seeking “nominal, actual, compensatory, and punitive damages."
"We really did try our best for over a year — just really trying to advocate for ourselves and everyone else who's been hurt," Aluotto said Monday. "We want to send a message: This can never happen again. This will never happen again."