By Lewis Kamb | Originally published in Seattle Times
King County has agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle the lawsuit of a 45-year-old woman who claims that when she was a teenage runaway 28 years ago, sheriff’s deputies left her at a Federal Way massage parlor where she was forced into prostitution.
Under the settlement terms, the woman — who has asked to be identified only by her initials, M.T. — has agreed to drop her case and any other potential claims against the county and its employees, while the county admitted no wrongdoing.
But decades-old police reports written by an undercover detective as part of a prostitution sting operation proved key in corroborating the woman’s claims and led to the favorable settlement, said her attorney, Lincoln Beauregard.
“The strength of the case was that a jury wouldn’t like to hear about a cop leaving little girls with pimps at a house of prostitution,” said Beauregard, who represented M.T. with law partner Evan Fuller. “That’s not a good look.”
The reports detail that the detective, Jon Holland, picked up then-17-year-old M.T. at a bus stop on Pacific Highway South in December 1993 and gave her a ride to The Golden Touch, a strip-mall massage parlor. Holland later instructed two uniformed deputies to go to the business and identify M.T., and they confirmed her age and left the girl there, an affidavit he later wrote says.
M.T. contends the massage parlor’s operator, a convicted pimp and rapist, took her that night to a home in Bellevue, where she was assaulted and held captive for weeks, while being forced to work on the street as a prostitute.
M.T. ultimately escaped, but that initial encounter indoctrinated her into the sex trade and led to years of drug abuse, mental health problems and other issues, she contends. She sued the county last year, claiming in her complaint filed in King County Superior Court that deputies ignored mandatory reporting laws and “failed to exercise even the slightest care … to prevent the life-altering sexual and physical abuse that M.T. subsequently endured.”
Lawyers with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which defended the case on behalf of the county Sheriff’s Office, twice tried to get the case tossed out of court, but a judge ruled each time the case could proceed to trial. The county’s settlement with M.T. was finalized Aug. 30.
The prosecutor’s office declined to comment and referred questions to the Sheriff’s Office. Sgt. Tim Meyer, spokesperson for Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, said Tuesday the Sheriff’s Office had no comment.
Holland, 57, who retired in 2019 after 30 years in law enforcement, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
M.T. was a high school dropout with a troubled home life and nowhere to stay when Holland, working in plain clothes in an unmarked vehicle, picked her up off Pacific Highway South. M.T. said a neighbor she had previously babysat for worked at the massage parlor and gave her the address, and Holland offered to take her there. By then, the detective had been investigating The Golden Touch and its operators — Michael Larry Landry, and his girlfriend, Rochelle C. King — for more than a year and a half, records show.
After Holland agreed to give M.T. a ride, he “asked her a few times how old she was,” an affidavit he later wrote says. “She finally admitted to being seventeen years old.”
The affidavit added: “She started crying and said that she was scared to go there. She said she had never worked inside a massage parlor before. She asked me if I knew what she would be required to do.
“I told her that she would be required to perform sex acts on the patrons in exchange for money,” the detective’s statement added. “I dropped her off at the business and watched her walk in.”
The sheriff’s vice team investigated for at least eight more months as Holland and other deputies compiled evidence used to help charge and convict Landry and King.
Landry pleaded guilty to six felony counts of promoting prostitution, admitting he “knowingly advanced the prostitution of (M.T.),” as well as two other girls and three women, court records show. He served more than two years in prison, while King got a year of community supervision.
In an interview last year, M.T. said she struggled for years with low self-esteem, post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts, and sometimes returned to sex work to pay her rent and bills. After seeking trauma therapy in 2018 from the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, M.T. said she finally recognized herself as a trafficking victim and realized that deputies had played a role.
M.T.’s settlement with the county partly “is intended to include funds for payment of any past or future health care costs related to my injuries arising from these claims and/or related injuries,” according to the agreement she signed.