In mid-December 1993, a teenage runaway looking for a place to get out of the cold went to the SeaTac Mall, where she ran into a neighbor who gave her a phone number and a promise to help.
During a call a few hours later, the girl was instructed to meet at The Golden Touch massage parlor a few miles away on busy Pacific Highway South in Federal Way.
She was asking a stranger for bus money when a man in a truck pulled over and offered a ride. The girl told him she was 17, homeless and scared, and she wondered what would be expected of her once she got to her destination.
“I told her that she would be required to perform sex acts on the patrons in exchange for money,” the man later wrote in notes about the conversation. “I dropped her off at the business and watched her walk in.”
A convicted pimp and rapist soon took the girl to his home in Bellevue, where she says he sexually assaulted her, locked her in a room and indoctrinated her into the sex trade. She was forced to sell herself on the street, and later gave birth to the child of one of her captors.
Twenty-seven years later, she is now suing King County after undergoing therapy and coming to a realization: The man who delivered her to the massage parlor that night was an undercover sheriff’s detective.
“He drove me to the front door with the traffickers on the other side, waiting for me,” the now 44-year-old woman, who asked to be identified by her initials, M.T., said in a recent interview. “He allowed me to walk in and knew what I was walking into.”
The woman’s lawsuit raises troubling questions about when ethical boundaries are crossed between undercover police work and an officer’s sworn duty to protect the vulnerable, and it allegedly spotlights an inherent hypocrisy: cops breaking the law to enforce it.
M.T.’s suit contends the detective, as well as deputies who checked her identification at the business later the same night, all knew she was a minor. Nonetheless, they 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.”
A lawyer defending King County declined an interview request, and King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht’s office did not respond to questions about current protocols for deputies facing similar situations.
The county tried to get the case tossed out of court, arguing the statute of limitations had long ago expired. In May, a judge denied that argument. The case is set for trial in March.
Until the judge’s ruling, prosecutors sought to postpone turning over detectives’ notes and other records to M.T.’s lawyers, who initially based her legal claims on her memory.
After the ruling, the county turned over the documents, including reports revealing the man who dropped M.T. off at the massage parlor was an undercover detective named Jon Holland.
Holland, 56, who retired last year after 30 years in law enforcement, did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Since 2011, his name has appeared on a prosecutors’ list of officers in King County with credibility problems.
The detailed reports Holland took as part of a criminal investigation of the massage parlor nearly three decades ago are now the case’s lynchpin records, according to her lawyers.
In 1994, prosecutors used evidence compiled by Holland and other deputies to convict the massage parlor’s operators, Michael Larry Landry, and his girlfriend, Rochelle C. King. Landry served more than two years in prison, while King got a year of community supervision.
When Landry pleaded guilty to six felony counts of promoting prostitution, he admitted he “knowingly advanced the prostitution of (M.T.),” as well as two other girls and three women, court records show.
“The police reports corroborated everything my client had said to the ‘T’,” said attorney Lincoln Beauregard, who represents M.T. with lawyer Evan Fuller. “I think it’s ethically questionable to have records like that in your files, corroborating everything, and produce them only after you’ve tried to have the case thrown out.”
“I’ll take you there”
Before she ended up at The Golden Touch, M.T. had dropped out of an alternative school in Auburn and repeatedly ran away from home. Her single mom, who worked a high-stress job at Boeing, eventually “wouldn’t let me come home anymore,” M.T. recalled.
M.T. sometimes stayed with friends, but by Dec. 13, 1993, she’d worn out her welcome. At the mall that night, she ran into a woman from her neighborhood who she’d babysat for several times.
“Can I come and babysit for you and stay on your couch?” M.T. recalled asking. “And her exact words were ‘I got you, baby girl.’”
At a convenience store’s pay phone, M.T. later called the woman, who gave her the address of the massage parlor where she worked three miles away, telling M.T. to meet there. Holland soon pulled up in a white truck, and M.T. showed him the massage parlor’s address.
“He looked at it and his eyes lit up and he said, `I know exactly where this is. I’ll take you here,'” M.T. said.
By then, Holland led a vice investigation of The Golden Touch and its operators that dated back more than a year and a half, records show.
Undercover deputies had posed as customers of Landry and King’s massage and escort businesses, and uniformed deputies occasionally made unannounced visits to them, running checks on employees.
After he agreed to give M.T. a ride to the massage parlor, Holland “asked her a few times how old she was,” an affidavit he 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.”
After telling her what to expect, Holland left M.T. at The Golden Touch. He later instructed two deputies to go in and identify her, and they confirmed her age, his report says.
The sheriff’s vice team investigated for at least eight more months before prosecutors charged Landry and King partly based on statements of women and girls, including M.T.
M.T. recently said she didn’t recognize Holland when he took her statement in March 1994. By then, “so much had happened in between that night and then when they came to interview me,” she said.
“You’re not a prostitute at 17,” she said. “You’re a victim at 17.”
After she was dropped off at The Golden Touch, several women “started to talk about what they could get for me,” M.T. said. They bleached her hair and dressed her in provocative clothing.
A short time later, police cars pulled into the parking lot. The women told M.T. to hide her purse, containing her school ID card, under a couch, she said. Deputies quickly found it.
“I thought the police were there to rescue me,” M.T. said. Instead, they left.
A short time later, Landry and his assistant showed up in a car and drove M.T. back to his Bellevue home, where she was assaulted and kept captive, she said.
Over the next three weeks, Landry’s assistant — a 21-year-old man named Aaron — drove M.T. each night to Everett or Seattle, where she was ordered to walk the street and sell herself dozens of times, she said. All of the money went to Landry, she said.
After a customer beat her up, Landry called the attack “an occupational hazard” and soon forced M.T. to go back to work, court records show. Aaron instead took M.T. to a Denny’s restaurant, warned her not to tell anyone about what happened and let her go, she said.
But with no place to stay, M.T. soon moved in with Aaron, and he got her pregnant. “I was trauma-bonded to him,” she said. Before giving birth to her son, M.T. said she fled to live with her mom in Federal Way and later moved into transitional housing for homeless teenage parents.
For years, M.T. said she struggled with low self-esteem, post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts. She worked low-paying jobs, drew welfare and sometimes returned to prostitution. M.T. was arrested twice for prostitution-related crimes, the last time in 2014, records show.
Two years ago, after seeking trauma therapy from the King County Sexual Abuse Resource Center, M.T. said she started attending support group meetings for sex trade survivors, “and from there, my whole life changed.”
Only then did she recognize herself as a trafficking victim and realize that deputies had played a role, she said. Last year, M.T. filed a claim against King County seeking up to $20 million in damages.
“I hate even saying it, but I feel like (deputies) used me to gain a worse felony on these people because I was an underage person, and so it would help their career or case,” she said.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.