MANATEE — A local defense attorney says tactics used recently to make prostitution arrests could be pushing the limits after an undercover detective paid two women to perform sex acts with each other.
“It’s a sex act and we don’t have to be involved in it,” Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Dave Bristow said.
Most street prostitution arrests take place when a sex act is named and a price is charged up front. The arrest is made without any sex act, but instead probable cause is based on the proposed business transaction.
Undercover detectives have a challenging time infiltrating the businesses such as lingerie shops for prostitution stings, though.
“These aren’t easy to do and get enough probable cause to get an arrest,” Bristow said, noting several complaints have been recently received about the businesses.
Last week an undercover sheriff’s office detective went to Cupids Lingerie, 1417 Cortez Road, and used sheriff’s office investigative funds to have two women perform sex acts on each other while he watched for more than five minutes during a private session.
“I asked the females if they would dance with each other and they both agreed and began dancing,” the detective’s arrest report states. “I asked the females if they would begin touching each other sexually and both stated they needed more ‘tips.’ ”
Throughout the report, the detective continues to tip the women and tells them what to do. He eventually paid a total of $200, according to the report.
At the end of the session, the women are arrested on prostitution charges with one woman saying, “We did not touch him. We touched ourselves.”
Mark Lipinski, a local criminal defense attorney, said after reading the report the women’s actions might not be considered prostitution under state statute.
“One of the problems in this (arrest report) is the cop is directing the women to do things and seems to be directing them to do acts that aren’t illegal,” he said. “If they had been trying to do something sexually to him for $40 or $100, that would be different. All the (arrest report) is suggesting is that he is having them do something to themselves.”
Cliff Ramey, assistant state attorney, said this case has not been reviewed by prosecutors. When asked about similar scenarios, he said detectives did not appear to overstep their boundaries. In each case, he said all of the evidence is weighed.
Lipinski said law enforcement has limitations during vice operations.
“There are constitutional limits to how far cops can actually go ... to where they are breaking the law themselves,” he said. “Cops can create opportunity for crime to happen, but they can’t entrap people.”
When Bristow was asked about the length of the session to gain evidence, he said, “It’s not like we like doing these things. These are not easy cases. When you get multiple complaints on (these businesses), we’re going to do them.”