State Appeals Court Finds Government's Actions In Craigslist Sex Sting 'Outrageous' And 'Repugnant'

from the ruinous-behavior dept

Our courts will let the government get away with almost anything. Although judges have expressed immense amounts of displeasure at the ATF’s sting operations involving fictitious drug stash houses, it has seldom resulted in reversed convictions. To “shock the conscience,” the government must cross lines courts are very reluctant to draw. Running a child porn website for a few weeks doesn’t do it. Neither does taking a trucking company’s truck and employee and returning both full of bullet holes after a sting goes south.

Very occasionally, the government will find its way across this line. Eric Goldman has uncovered one of these rare cases. It involves a child sex sting operation perpetrated by a law enforcement agency, during which the undercover officer refused to leave a “target” alone after he repeatedly made it clear he wasn’t looking to buy sex from an underage female.

This case’s setup resembles dozens or hundreds of similar cases I’ve read. In 2014, a law enforcement officer (in this case, Skagit County Sheriff’s detective Theresa Luvera) posted a sex solicitation on Craigslist’s casual encounters. As we’ve discussed before, Craigslist’s rules required all participants to be 18+. something that has undermined sex stings in the past (if you read that post, the parallels to this post will be obvious).

The defendant responded to the solicitation. After some online exchanges between the detective and the defendant, the detective claimed she is underage (“almost 15 but waaay advanced”). Even further into the exchanges, the detective brought up money-for-sex. At every step along the way but the end, the defendant seemingly made it clear he was seeking free sex with a female adult. Eventually the defendant shows up at the designated rendezvous point with the requested items. He “was charged with one count of communication with a minor for immoral purposes, one count of commercial sex abuse of a minor, and one count of attempted rape of a child in the third degree.”

The trial court dismissed the charges, pointing to the detective’s “outrageous misconduct.” More specifically, it pointed to the state’s violation of the defendant’s due process right to “fundamental fairness.” The appellate court upholds the decision in its opinion [PDF], which recaps, verbatim, some of the nearly 100 sexually explicit messages sent by the detective to push someone who had disengaged from the conversation multiple times into breaking the law.

In this matter, a law enforcement officer anonymously published an advertisement on an online classifieds platform reserved for those over the age of 18 and indicated that she was “a young female” seeking an individual interested in a casual sexual encounter. Joshua Solomon responded to the advertisement. Thereafter, the police officer assumed the guise of a fictional 14-year-old girl and sent Solomon nearly 100 messages laden with graphic, sexualized language and innuendo and persistently solicited him to engage in a sexual encounter with the fictional minor, notwithstanding that he had rejected her solicitations seven times over the course of four days.

At one point, Solomon rejected the “teen’s” advances, stating specifically he thought this was “a setup by cops or a website.” This only resulted in Detective Luvera increasing her pleas for illegal sex and amping up the sexual content of the messages. The appellate court’s analysis tracks the trial court’s distaste for the state’s actions. But, as it notes, the government is cut so much slack in so many edge cases, precedential decisions on the topic are few and far between.

A decade later, for the first time, a claim of outrageous governmental misconduct was presented to the Supreme Court in a case in which a full trial court record was extant. In State v. Athan,law enforcement officers, “posing as a fictitious law firm, induced Athan to mail a letter to the firm.” 160 Wn.2d 354, 362, 158 P.3d 27 (2007). They did so in order to obtain a sample of his DNA.

That’s what the Washington state court has to work with after 100+ years of jurisprudence: one case roughly on point involving something which seems less violative of due process rights. (More of a 4th Amendment violation than a 14th Amendment violation.) The trial court certainly didn’t need a bunch of precedent on hand to find the government’s behavior disgusting. The appellate decision quotes it at length on the way to upholding the lower court’s findings. In this case, the only thing propelling the sting forward was the government. Seven times the defendant tried to disengage and seven times the detective assailed him with increasingly-graphic text messages. And all of this stems from an action the government took: the placement of an ad in an area of Craigslist where all ad posters were supposed to be over the age of 18.

Here’s just a small part of the trail court’s oral comments on the sheriff department’s actions (NSFW in parts):

I can’t believe the detective would want to go to trial on this and subject this language to citizens. I’m just going to give you a little tidbit. At 3:17 on Wednesday, September 17th, the detective says, “OMG U R so fing hung baby!!! VVTF . . . I’m so amped up after seeing this. I have wait for my sister to leave and I am gonna video tape me finger banging me to ur plc! Can’t u cum and see me now!!!” Yeah, that’s repugnant. I don’t care how you cut that pie. You can be a seasoned old sailor or whatever, but that is repugnant. That’s a detective letting line out very fast on a free spool trying to get Mr. Solomon back in the game. And there is no other way to — there is no other way to describe it. It’s outrageous. That is repugnant. It’s egregious.

The appeals court sums this all up with a couple of concise paragraphs.

In ruling to dismiss the charges, the trial court did not adopt a view that no reasonable judge would take. Given the court’s finding that law enforcement had initiated and controlled the criminal activity, persistently solicited Solomon to commit the crimes so initiated, and acted in a manner (through the use of language and otherwise) repugnant to the trial judge’s view of the community’s sense of justice, the trial court’s determination was tenable.

Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by ordering that the charges against Solomon be dismissed. There was no error.

This isn’t how you catch criminals. This is how you manufacture criminals. Much like the ATF’s stash house stings and a great many of the FBI’s terrorist investigations, the government does 99% of the work and jails the unlucky person who has been coerced and cajoled into doing something they likely would have never done if the government hadn’t instigated it. A good call here by both courts working without almost zero precedent. Unfortunately, the lack of precedent doesn’t suggest a well-behaved government. Instead, it points to a whole lot of judicial slack being cut over the years.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: craigslist

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “State Appeals Court Finds Government's Actions In Craigslist Sex Sting 'Outrageous' And 'Repugnant'”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Ninja (profile) says:

3873 attempts in…
COP: “Let’s have some funky, sleazy time, I’ll pay!”
Teen: “Nope, I don’t care for money, I want [censored]!”
COP: “You get free [censored] and a ton of money to spend on gaming be it a new rig or new games!”
Teen: “If you put it like that… Fine, let’s do it!”

It was the gaming.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yap Yap Yap...

When the courts finally start doing something other than… hand-wringing and gentle slaps on the hands *wink* *wink* I will give a shit about what the judge is saying.

Your first paragraph says it all…

“To “shock the conscience,” the government must cross lines courts are very reluctant to draw. Running a child porn website for a few weeks doesn’t do it. Neither does taking a trucking company’s truck and employee and returning both full of bullet holes after a sting goes south.”

For now, I will just chalk all of this up as nothing other than faux outrage!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Yap Yap Yap...

The problem often isn’t that they’re not outraged and/or disgusted at what happened, but that even then they still give them a pass because ‘Badge = Right’. For far too many courts so long as someone has a badge it doesn’t matter what the law says, there actions are still considered legal and acceptable regardless.

While it would be much better to actually punish them personally for abusing their positions, the absolute least the courts can do is make it so that all their hard work goes up in smoke as the conviction they were so eager to score is dismissed, something that this court was at least willing to do.

Anonymous Coward says:


This is truly shocking. “Sting” operations routinely use these tactics, and judges never seem to have the slightest problem with it. Of course, the investigators have to power to conveniently “lose” those recorded conversations that show the targeted person refusing multiple times when asked to do something illegal.

Selective omission can be another powerful tool when presenting tape-recorded evidence. I’m still waiting to hear the rest of Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” conversation that could have softened the outrage against him, as there was probably a reason why the earlier part of the conversation was edited out..

ROGS (user link) says:

Re: shocking

If you add into their internet operations the fact that the cops are watching a guy online via Fusion Centers, and routing his web searches in real time topropirtions.

InfraGard types, and squad cars parked up the blick,it getsreally shitt

Throw in some code injection and internet websearch redirection, extended over egregious amounts of time,and these framejobs take on PsyOps proportions.

JohnLang,a Fresno CA activist went through a seven year hidden battle with these types, and this form of hidden entrapment/policing.

He allegedly killed himself, as his house burned , with fire trucks sitting idle, adowncouple blocks away.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

But hey his name will be mud forever, because the charges are reported the screwing over by the system not so much.

We’ve been letting more and more slide because bad guys deserve it, ignoring that even the most pure & devout can be pushed over the edge… so what chance does a horny guy or someone with diminished IQ and reasoning skills stand against these trained professionals who have the single goal of pushing until you crack no matter how much it takes.

Bruce C. says:

Best news I've heard all year...

NOW there’s a case that was so clear that it motivated the trial court to make a precedential ruling, and the appeals court affirms. So at least in Washington state, there’s now a basis to define what is acceptable behavior by law enforcement when performing a sting operation.

OTOH I’m surprised the dude didn’t report the account to Craigslist for violating TOS and harassment.

ROGS says:

the undercover officer refused to leave a "target" alone

This is one category of what is colloquially called a targeted individual.

Sex crime cops are among the most perverse, and perversly imaginative people on earth.
Freud was onto something with projection.

And, the databases they use to target individuals have never seen a court room, and worse, these databases are now shared between 17 agencies in the US alone, and the FVEY data entrapment scheme.

Anyone who has ever been targeted this way, or copped a Chris Mathews plea, or who lives in a shitty small town where churches outnumber libraries will be repeatedly approached online and off for YEARS, and even decades.

Then, there are the vigilante groups where church people use their kids online and off to hunt suspected bad guys, in perverse ways that defy reason, logic orlaw.

Anywhere the states can pull a cool million dollar-per-child trick, and spirit a kid away from someone we see this insanity of gray area “high policing.”

First they came for the Manassas dick-pic cop and I said nothing, lol…..

Then, they came for the bloggers, like Jeff Pataky was just the begining….

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...