Bungled massage raid Howard County: Questionable undercover police actions made prosecution impossible.

April 08, 1996

THE RATIONALE for the seven-month investigation that culminated in a massage parlor raid last October in Howard County was that the police officers' undercover activity would result in convictions. Only two cases of 13 have been successfully prosecuted, and in the past two weeks, prosecutors have dropped charges in the remaining cases. The public is left to wonder what purpose, if any, the raid, in which police officers spent $4,260 at massage parlors, really served.

Police Chief James N. Robey's desire to keep the officers' personal lives out of the courtroom and family members from testifying forced State's Attorney Marna McLendon to drop the remaining charges. When the defendants gained the judge's permission to call an officer's wife to testify, the prosecution pulled the plug on two cases set for trial. The officer's spouse apparently was not told of her husband's involvement in the massage parlor assignment, though Howard officials had previoulsy maintained that the undercover policemen had gained their wives' or girlfriends' approval.

Ms. McLendon said the officers did nothing illegal and that the investigation should not be on trial. Try telling this to the county's taxpayers. From the get-go, it was the same tactic that the police department lauded for helping them get more arrests that really destroyed their chances in court. Police reports confirm that officers allowed massage "technicians" to masturbate them to gain evidence. And officers claimed they visited the same sites dozens of times -- to establish patterns of behavior. When the dirty details reached the public, many were outraged and rightly so.

Chief Robey not only stands behind the decision to orchestrate such a raid but says the department "acted properly" and that he would consider authorizing the same type of investigation again. That's not the lesson he should have learned.

The police chief points out that all of the establishments involved were slapped with fines, had their licenses suspended for 30 days and were forced to reimburse the department. Yet thousands of dollars were spent and 90 valuable man hours wasted on an investigation in which police officers' behavior was anything but decent. Even a series of convictions wouldn't change that.

Pub Date: 4/08/96

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