Texas female deputies in human trafficking task force accuse superiors of sexual exploitation, abuse
(CNN) — Three former and current Harris County deputy constables allege they were being sexually exploited, molested and harassed by their superiors while assigned to a human trafficking task force, according to a federal civil lawsuit filed Monday.
The female officers — Liz Gomez, Marissa Sanchez and Felecia McKinney — claim they were rookie deputies when they were “handpicked” for undercover operations, “molested and traumatized by their intoxicated male commanding officers for their own sexual gratification,” the lawsuit says.
And when the deputies reported the abuse to supervisors, the lawsuit alleges they were ridiculed, retaliated against and reassigned to less prestigious duties.
Jacquelyn Aluotto, a human trafficking advocate and the fourth plaintiff in the case, says she reported the alleged abuse, too, and was subsequently transferred out of the human trafficking task force.
The lawsuit was filed against Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, assistant chief Chris Gore and Lieutenant Shane Rigdon, along with Harris County.
In a statement, Rosen said an internal investigation has been conducted and his office’s Administrative Disciplinary Committee “found no violations of law or policy.”
“We immediately transferred leadership of the Human Trafficking Unit to another supervisor who still maintains oversight of that unit today,” Rosen said.
Rosen was first elected Constable of Precinct 1 in 2012. During his first year in office, he created the “Human Trafficking Task Force,” according to his official biography posted on his office’s website.
Field operations for the unit are managed by Gore and Rigdon, according to the lawsuit.
None of the defendants in the federal civil lawsuit have been charged with a crime.
Rigdon did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment. CNN attempted, but could not reach, Gore for comment.
Lawsuit: Female deputies had to pose as prostitutes at ‘bachelor party’ stings
According to the lawsuit, Gore set up “bachelor party” stings at hotel rooms and had male undercover deputies pose as Johns and female undercover deputies pose as prostitutes. Gore selected the female deputies based on his “personal taste in women — young, attractive, and Latina,” per the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says Gomez was selected for the undercover operations in 2019 and was instructed to purchase “new and revealing clothing” for the operations and then send Gore, her superior, a text message with photos of the outfits.
“That’s not slutty enough,” Gore responded via text message while instructing that “more provocative” clothing be purchased, according to the lawsuit.
Gomez was also ordered to accompany Gore to an adult sex shop to buy various items, all paid for with county dollars, the lawsuit alleges.
The alcohol for the sting “parties” was also purchased on the county dime, per the lawsuit; and they quickly turned into a “booze-fueled playground for sexual exploitation.” According to the lawsuit, Rosen attended at least one of the “parties” personally.
“Rosen created and oversaw the ‘bachelor party’ unit which subjected untrained subordinate officers to sexual contact from their commanding officers,” the lawsuit stated.
“I have a zero-tolerance stance against sexual assault and sexual harassment and would never allow a hostile work environment as alleged,” Rosen said in a statement.
Rosen said his office was made aware of the concerns by a third party several months ago — which is when he instructed the Internal Affairs Division to conduct an investigation; but says that none of the plaintiffs had made a formal complaint with his office.
“Each employee interviewed was given the opportunity, in a safe environment, to express any concerns,” Rosen said in a statement. “Their own interview statements contradict many of the allegations in the lawsuit.”
The ‘party scenes’ were recorded on surveillance cameras
Sanchez and McKinney also allege being selected for the stings — whose activities, per the lawsuit, were recorded on surveillance cameras.
“Chief Gore, however, instructed the surveillance teams to ensure that none of the ‘party scenes’ were caught on the footage that would be provided to the District Attorney’s Office,” according to the lawsuit.
Rigdon reviewed all the surveillance footage of the stings and deleted anything that he said “lacked evidentiary value” before submitting the evidence to the Harris County district Attorney’s office, per the lawsuit.
All three plaintiff deputies say — in the lawsuit — that they didn’t receive training, preparation or warning about how physical their superiors would be with them; which at times included “fondling,” “kissing and licking their bodies.”
“(Gomez) would be fighting back the urge to break down in tears,” the lawsuit says.
One of the women also alleges she was ordered to participate in a separate sting at a massage parlor that resulted in sexual assault. After the sting, she drove herself to get a sexual assault exam and has since been under the care of a therapist and trauma specialist, per the lawsuit.
Gomez, Sanchez and McKinney claim that after they reported the alleged abuses up the chain of command, they were retaliated against, ridiculed, threatened to be assigned additional undercover operations — which would result in more abuse — or to be transferred out of the human trafficking unit to less prestigious positions.
‘This can never happen again’
Jacquelyn Aluotto, a human trafficking advocate who worked in the same human trafficking task force as the deputies, is also a plaintiff in the case. She says in the lawsuit she reported the alleged abuse, first up the chain of command and later to the Harris County District Attorney’s office; but she says her outcry was ignored.
“We are here to speak truth to power, so that this never happens to any more women and children ever again,” Aluotto said in a press conference Monday. Gomez and McKinney were standing next to Aluotto as she delivered her remarks.
The Harris County District Attorney’s office, through spokesperson Dane Schiller, said that upon learning about the allegation it contacted the Constable Precinct 1 Internal Affairs division to investigate.
“We are not the investigative agency for such allegations, be them administrative, civil or criminal,” Schiller said in a statement to CNN
In the lawsuit, Aluotto alleges her work hours inside the human trafficking task force were cut to zero after she, too, reported the alleged abuse to the Internal Affairs division of the Constable’s Office.
“This lawsuit is an effort to impugn the good reputation of the hard-working men and women of the Precinct One Constable’s Office,” Rosen said. “I believe our system of due process works and that justice and truth will prevail as facts in this case come to light.”
“We want to send a message,” Aluotto said during a news conference Monday. “This can never happen again.”