The Seattle Fire Department has placed a longtime firefighter on administrative leave after an arrest during an online sting operation with undercover officers posing as 13-year-old girls.
Pierce County prosecutors on Thursday charged the firefighter, Andrew Sapier, 52, with two counts of second-degree attempted rape of a child and communication with a minor for immoral purposes, though no actual children were involved in the alleged crimes.
Sapier’s arrest and charges, first reported by The News Tribune, were among three other arrests that were part of “Operation Day Care,” a multiagency effort similar to the Washington State Patrol’s Operation Net Nanny, a series of online sting operations launched in 2015.
People convicted in online stings in Washington can serve more time in prison than those convicted of molesting actual children, according to a New York Times analysis, and can spend life on the sex offender registry. Net Nanny cases have a 95% conviction rate, according to the Washington State Patrol.
Richard Packard, past president of the Washington state chapter of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, said that most of the men netted in online underage sex stings present a relatively low risk of subsequent arrest or conviction for sex crimes, but there are some serious exceptions.
Online stings raise the question of what people would have done if they hadn’t been involved in a police operation, said Michael O’Connell, the representative of the chapter on the Washington State Sex Offender Policy Board.
“There is child sex abuse in the world. It is a thing. There are some meetups that occur in various internet platforms and social media platforms and those actually do happen,” O’Connell said.
Yet, he added: “I think there’s a reasonable hypothesis that but for these planted and contrived sting operations, these guys would not have gone looking for a 13-year-old.”
The Sapier case is the second in a month in which a public employee was caught in an online sting. In February, a 27-year-old Washington State Patrol employee was arrested after police said he traded graphic messages with an undercover officer and showed up at a Kirkland hotel room expecting to find two children.
The Seattle Fire Department confirmed that Sapier, who was hired by the department in 1998, was arrested while off duty and was on leave pending an internal investigation and the upcoming legal process.
According to the charging documents:
Sapier reached out to a social media profile showing a photo of a female undercover state patrol trooper with a listed age of 52. In texts exchanged between Sapier and an undercover officer, the officer later identified as 13.
The undercover officer asked Sapier if he was “down to party” along with a friend, also described as 13, and asked him to bring condoms. Sapier was arrested March 16 at a Tacoma address given to him by the undercover officer.
Sapier at times expressed confusion about the age of the person he was corresponding with in texts exchanged between the two. In a recorded interview with Seattle police, Sapier said he came to the house hoping that the two girls were not actually 13. Police said that after the recording ended, Sapier said he might have been willing to have sex with two 13-year-olds.