The tactics used by undercover officers that led to the temporary shutdown of Fantasy Plaza, a Houston strip club, are being questioned after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the club.
In June of 2017, the Houston Police Department received information that a missing juvenile was working at a Houston strip club, having used a fake driver’s license to get hired. After receiving three photos of the girl and learning from her mother that the juvenile had a distinct mole under her collarbone, three undercover officers went to the strip club in search of the 16-year-old.
In the official report made by the Houston P.D., investigators said that one of the officers saw the juvenile dancing on stage as he entered the club. He secured a lap dance from the minor, and, according to the officer, it wasn’t until she removed her top and performed the private dance, which included simulated sexual intercourse, that he was able to see the mole under her collarbone and subsequently identify her as the missing teen.
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Following the shutdown of the club back in 2018, the owner of Fantasy Plaza retained the legal services of attorney Albert Van Huff, who took issue with the officer’s tactics used to apprehend the runaway juvenile, saying there was no need for the officer to receive a private dance to identify the girl.
“You send a couple of vice officers in there, and they spend a couple of hours drinking and watching the girls. They have to justify why they're there with a couple of cases, and that's what they do,” stated Van Huff.
Michael Shively, a senior associate at Abt Associates, a public policy research firm, says that he has never heard of an officer needing a lap dance to identify a woman in his many years in criminal justice.
Shively believes that the lap dance seemed unnecessary to simply ID someone. After receiving a copy of the police report, Shively added, “I would guess the face in the photos would make her recognizable in person, so I am not sure why the mole is so critical to observe in order to make an ID.”
In Fantasy Plaza’s lawsuit against the city of Houston, they claim the club has been treated unfairly because it was not part of a settlement with the city that allowed 16 other strip clubs to operate outside of the provisions of Chapter 28 of Houston’s Code of Ordinances. This ordinance sets forth regulations for sexually oriented businesses in exchange for a total annual donation to a human-trafficking abatement fund of $1 million.
Days after the lawsuit was filed, a judge ordered the shutdown of the club.
Art Acevedo, Houston’s police chief, said he completely backed the conduct of the officer in identifying the juvenile runaway and taking the girl into custody. Acevedo said that the officers “Didn’t do anything inappropriate.” He added that he was “just happy we were able to get her and get her the hell out of there.”
In support of Acevedo’s stance on the situation, Rosemarie Donnelly, assistant county attorney, said that any suggestion that the police officer’s conduct was unwarranted is false given the circumstances of the operation. "I think HPD officers we work with in the past have the highest integrity and ethics. The implication that they did something wrong is something I strongly disagree with," said attorney Donnelly.
The Houston Police Department has declined to comment in regard to the justification of the tactics used that night.
If you have questions about the tactics used by the Houston P.D. or are facing a prostitution-related crime, we encourage you to contact the skilled and dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Maverick Ray & Associates. We work hard to protect the rights of our clients and will do everything in our power to get you the best possible outcome. Contact our firm online or call (281) 672-8029 today to arrange a FREE consultation.