Michael Wayne Lyon would meet young girls on social media, start chats with his signature greeting, “hi babygirl,” and claim he was 15 years old.
That’s how the Florida man began his monthslong online grooming of a 13-year-old girl in Eastern Oregon before he flew to Hermiston in 2018, picked her up from her house in the middle of the night, drove her to a hotel, sexually assaulted her and secretly filmed the abuse.
Then he sent the video to the girl’s boyfriend and brother, according to the girl, FBI agents and court testimony.
On Wednesday, Lyon, now 39, sat in blue jail scrubs before a federal judge in Portland for sentencing after a jury last year convicted him of using a minor to produce a visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct.
His criminal trial laid bare how little Umatilla police investigated when the girl and her parents first reported the sexual assault to a sergeant.
“The police did nothing,” attorney Terry Scannell wrote in a federal civil rights suit against Umatilla Police Department, the police chief, the detective sergeant and the city.
Lyon’s arrest in 2020 and prosecution wouldn’t have happened were it not for the FBI’s involvement, according to court testimony, the girl, her family and their civil attorneys.
The girl and her parents had gone to Umatilla police shortly after the March 24, 2018, abuse, even showing the detective sergeant a recording of the video Lyon made.
The sergeant told the parents he didn’t believe their daughter, directed her mother to find out the full name of the attacker and failed to do basic investigative work, such as finding out who reserved the hotel room the night of the assault, according to court testimony and the girl’s attorneys.
Had he asked the hotel, the sergeant would have learned the attacker’s full name right away, according to trial evidence.
Meanwhile, Lyon continued to contact the girl online and made repeated threats when she tried to block communication, messaging that he would kill her whole family, according to the girl and federal investigators.
“Every time I tried to cut it off, it became more and more scary to do so. He would start threatening more. He went from threatening me to threatening my family,” the young woman, now 18, told the judge at Lyon’s sentencing.
The Oregonian/OregonLive isn’t naming the girl or her family because she’s a sexual assault victim.
“I went through years of this,” she said, as she sat between two federal prosecutors while her mother, listening from the public gallery, wiped tears from her eyes.
“I was alone,” the 18-year-old said, “fighting my own battle.”
‘I trusted anyone’ at age 13
Lyon began exchanging messages online with the girl in October 2017.
The exchange quickly turned graphic, and he persuaded her to send him naked photos of herself, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Pamela Paaso.
“I was a very, very trusting little girl,” the victim said. “I trusted anyone who showed me any kindness.”
After first claiming he was 15, Lyon later told her that he was 17 before finally admitting he was in his 30s.
By that time, though, he had gained access to the girl’s Snapchat and Instagram contacts, her home address and the names of her family members, according to court testimony and prosecutors.
The girl tried to block him on social media and ignore his messages, but Lyon persisted.
In March 2018, Lyon flew to Seattle, rented a car and drove five hours to Hermiston.
The girl feared she’d get in trouble with her parents for “falling into” this man’s “trap” and was worried he’d make good on his threats, so she followed his directions when he showed up near her house, according to the prosecutor.
She sneaked out of her home around 2 a.m. March 24, 2018, and got into his black car at the end of her street, according to court testimony.
He drove to a Comfort Inn & Suites in Hermiston, she said in court. There, he told her to go through a side door, so they wouldn’t be seen together on a hotel camera. The girl recounted in court how frightened she was as she thought: “Oh my God, how do I get out of this?”
She cried in the hotel room and told the man she knew as “Michael” that she needed to get home before her stepmother found her missing, she told the judge. He took her home around 4 a.m. after he assaulted her multiple times, she said.
“All I remember is lying in bed, and I took a shower because I felt gross and I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror,” she said.
Lyon kept contacting her. He admitted that he had surreptitiously filmed the assault and threatened to send the video to the girl’s 14-year-old boyfriend, she said.
Days later, he followed through and sent the video to her boyfriend — as well as her brother — via Instagram in an auto-deleting mode, meaning it was part of a social media story that deleted itself after it was opened.
Her parents then learned of the video. When the girl’s brother found another friend also had been sent the video, the girl’s mother was able to record 18 seconds of it on her own phone to preserve it, according to court records.
The girl could no longer remain quiet.
“I went and tried to go to the police and nothing happened,” she told the judge.
‘Girls make stuff up’
The girl’s father accompanied her to the Umatilla Police Department about a week after the sexual assault.
The girl told Umatilla Detective Sgt. Bill Wright on April 4, 2018, what had happened. She gave the sergeant her attacker’s first name, described him, said he had traveled from out of state and identified the hotel where the assault occurred.
Wright testified at Lyon’s trial that he talked to the girl “probably 10 minutes or less,” wrote a report and referred her to Guardian Care Center, a child abuse intervention center, for another interview. He assured the girl’s father that a full investigation would be done.
Two days later, the girl and her mother returned and provided the sergeant with a recording of the video of the assault.
At that meeting, Wright remarked how calm the girl was and suggested she might be “just upset at a boy and trying to get back at him,” her lawsuit alleges.
“Young girls make stuff up like this all the time,” Wright allegedly told the girl and her mother, according to the civil suit.
Wright told the mother if she were a “good mom,” she’d find a photo and the full name of her daughter’s abuser so police could find him, according to the suit.
Within a few weeks, Wright visited the father’s home and picked up his cellphone, which his daughter had used to communicate with her attacker, according to the suit. Wright told the father then that he didn’t believe the daughter was ever at the hotel, the suit alleges.
A couple of months later, Wright returned to the father’s home and told him the investigation hadn’t turned up anything and police couldn’t move forward, the suit says.
Wright was among the witnesses called to testify at Lyon’s trial last summer.
Under questioning from the prosecutor and defense lawyer, Wright revealed in his sworn testimony how little he did to investigate, according to a court transcript.
February marked Wright’s 37th year with the 13-member Umatilla Police Department.
He said he relied on the Comfort Inn manager to review any video from the hotel, asking the manager to search from midnight to 4 a.m. on the night in question, for a man escorting a young girl wearing a blue-hooded windbreaker.
Paaso, the prosecutor, asked him, “Did you subpoena or request search warrants for any records from Instagram?”
No, Wright responded.
“Had you ever, in your career at Umatilla, requested or received a search warrant for social media accounts?” Passo asked.
No, Wright said.
Lyon’s defense lawyer, Robert Hamilton, continued with his own questions.
Did Wright or any Umatilla police officer go to the hotel and view the hotel video? Did Wright get details about the number of cameras that the hotel manager reviewed or angles he reviewed? Did Wright ask for a copy of the surveillance video?
Each time Wright answered no.
Did Wright examine the father’s cellphone or make a digital copy, Hamilton asked. Wright said he hadn’t.
“But had the phone been examined and that SnapChat app been on there … it would have been a good place to try and recover username or account name information, correct?” Hamilton asked.
“A possibility,” Wright testified.
“So you have no leads from this phone whatsoever?”
“But you also didn’t try to get leads from the phone?”
The phone sat in a plastic bin in the Umatilla Police Department, Wright’s testimony revealed.
On April 19, 2019, without preserving what was on the phone, Wright returned the cellphone to the girl’s father, he said.
The father said he never got the phone back.
FBI’s help sought as threats continue
Over the next nine months, the girl and her mother worked to gather evidence themselves.
The girl continued to endure threats from her attacker, sexual advances online and obscene photos, the prosecutor said.
Lyon would contact the girl via a new Snapchat account after she’d block his old ones and sent messages using false names.
He would often start a message with “hi babygirl” or “Just call me daddy” and promised to “leak ur nudes everywhere” or kill her and her “whole (expletive) family” if she didn’t delete their online chats, according to court records.
He repeated the same mantra: “We both know ages (sic) just a number,” according to court records.
The victim testified that Lyon told her he would “rape my sisters in front of me and kill my family” if she stopped communicating with him.
In another message, he wrote, “I’ve already talked with my attorney about it. And he assured me that we can make life a living hell for you if you decided to go to the police.”
In January 2020, she was able to get a photo of Lyon’s face and his full name.
She and her mother went back to Umatilla police, told Wright that her abuser was now threatening to kill the family and that they had multiple chat threads on another cellphone, according to the civil suit.
Wright still didn’t believe them and suggested the department would face a lawsuit if he pursued an arrest based on faulty information, according to the civil suit.
Now in fear for the family, the girl’s mother turned to Google and found a number for the FBI.
At no point did Umatilla police recommend the girl or her mother reach out to the federal agency, the girl’s attorney said.
The FBI immediately opened a case, secured multiple warrants for social media platforms, located the hotel registration and car rental invoices with Lyon’s full name and arrested Lyon in Pennsylvania in December 2020.
The girl testified at the trial in Portland and a jury convicted him in August.
Umatilla Police Chief Darla Huxel, Wright and Umatilla City Manager David Stockdale didn’t return messages and emails seeking their comment on the case or the civil suit’s allegations.
‘Nothing to say’
At Lyon’s sentencing Wednesday, March 8, 2023, the prosecutor called Lyon a child predator who not only targeted the Oregon victim but other girls online, making sexual overtures and persuading them to send nude photos. Paaso urged a 25-year sentence.
The victim told U.S. District Judge Karin J. Immergut that Lyon “controlled” her. Her father bolted their windows shut to make sure no one could break in, she said.
“I used to be a happy, happy kid,” she said. “I lost who I was. Every move I made, everything was controlled by one man, who I didn’t even know, who I met once.”
Hamilton, Lyon’s lawyer, argued for a 20-year sentence, saying Lyon has no prior criminal history and would be unlikely to reoffend given his age when he would get out of prison.
Lyon declined to address the judge. “I have nothing to say at this time,” he said.
Immergut said she considered a 30-year sentence for Lyon recommended by a probation officer, but she accepted the 25-year prison term urged by the prosecution, followed by 10 years of supervised release.
She said she considered all the circumstances of the grooming and sexual assault to be quite “egregious,” and made even more disturbing by his sharing of the video of the assault with his victim’s brother and boyfriend.
“It’s hard to imagine something more humiliating or traumatizing for a 13-year-old girl,” the judge said.
Immergut noted that Lyon has never accepted responsibility or shown remorse.
An attorney for the victim and her family filed the civil suit against Umatilla police about an hour after the sentencing. It seeks $23.5 million in punitive damages and $2.5 million in economic damages.
“The child suffered immeasurable physical and emotional damage due to the continuing harassment by the predator during the two years she was forced to investigate her own rapist,” the suit says. “This is a direct result of the inaction of the police and their minimal efforts to identify and stop him.”
The young woman said she’s continuing to fight to get over the harm done to her, but it haunts her daily. She suffers from panic attacks and anxiety.
When she thought she saw someone who looked like her attacker while driving the other day, she said, “I completely broke down.”
The 18-year-old is now the mother of a 3-year-old girl; the child is not Lyon’s. As a parent now, she said she “helicopters” her daughter.
When her daughter is in the front garden of their home and a car passes by, “I look at that car and I’m like, ‘Who are you?’ I watch everything. I’m constantly on high alert.”
Maxine Bernstein, email@example.com; 503-221-8212; on Twitter @maxoregonian
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