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61 Bellevue prostitution cases dismissed after audio mistake

Capt. Marcia Harnden (front) works with other investigators in the command center for "Operation on Demand." (Bellevue Police Department via KIRO 7)

Prosecutors will drop more than half of the cases against men involved in a massive Bellevue prostitution sting after it was discovered investigators improperly recorded interactions between undercover cops and alleged Johns.

RELATED: Police dragnet busts over 100 Johns in Bellevue

“What’s frustrating with this is that the evidence was overwhelming,” Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “… this was definitely a very solid operation. The officers did a phenomenal job. The video captured the crimes in progress … we also had text messages and electronic evidence. This was going to be a very strong case.”

“The fact that these 61 cases were dismissed because of a technicality, albeit a serious one, it’s disheartening and it’s frustrating,” he said.

The “technicality” was audio mistakenly recorded during some of the stings last August. Washington law requires two-party consent when recording audio of a conversation. Bellevue will now dismiss 61 of the 110 cases.

“I can’t get into the specific covert operational details of it,” Mylett said. “But in the room we had video cameras in there to capture video elements of the crime. Somewhere along the line in 61 of those cases in the first few days, audio was captured in the room … We are trying to find out how that happened, and ensure that it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

“Operation On Demand” was a partnership between the Bellevue Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Department in August and September. Undercover officers from both departments posed as prostitutes to gather evidence from online buyers of sex. It concluded in a week-long operation at a condo near downtown Bellevue. Police made 110 arrests.

Among those arrested was sports radio personality Mitch Levy. Mylett said that Levy’s case is not among those that are being dismissed.

Mylett said that these Bellevue prostitution cases would have been a “slam dunk,” and it’s disappointing that they are being dropped.

“The people involved with this know what they did,” Mylett said. “And they know that they were videotaped doing it. And they know that they were texting with our undercover officers. There may be a sense of relief that they don’t have to go through the prosecution process. But in the end, they know exactly what they did.”


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