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.
NBC News reached out to the Harris County Constable’s Precinct 1 Office for comment but has not yet received a response from any of the three officers named as defendants in the suit.
During the sting operations, undercover male officers would pose as johns while female officers would pose as prostitutes, Attorney Cordt Akers explained 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 about their treatment, 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.
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.”