Richland County, SC

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Shaming
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Letters
Cameras
Web stings
License suspension

Richland County is located in central South Carolina, and its population center is the city of Columbia.  The county has an approximate population of 358,000.  The Richland County Sheriff’s Office has conducted street-level reverse stings since at least 1989. Complaints from the community have focused police attention around Two Notch and Bush River Road.

In their efforts, the RCSO frequently collaborates with the Columbia Police Department. For example, both law enforcement agencies staged several reverse stings along Two Notch Road in the late 1980s and early 1990s, at times coordinating directly for joint-operations. Similarly, the RCSO and CPD both employ a shaming policy, whereby officers may release the names of those arrested for prostitution-related offenses as means of deterrence.

Richland County Sheriff’s deputies have also conducted several large-scale web stings that specifically target johns. In December 2012, one such operation, which placed decoy advertisements on Backpage.com, resulted in the arrest of 8 johns.  Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said, “This is the new way to advertise prostitution.  20 years ago they’d be standing on the side of the road on Two Notch Road. Today it’s done online.”  Over the two days, a female deputy worked out of a motel room near Two Notch Road and greeted “customer after customer” after they contacted her by phone.  In the next room, undercover deputies watched on video monitors and waited for the men to negotiate a price. Once an explicit offer was made, the sex buyers were arrested.  While prostitution crackdowns are not a top priority for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, they believe that prostitution leads to other criminal activity including violence, so they feel obligated to respond.

In July 2018, a crackdown on child sex predators, named Operation Full Armor, led to the arrest of 38 people throughout Richland County.  The four-day sting lasted from July 10-13 and involved collaboration with multiple law enforcement agencies from across the state that were brought in to assist.  Among those arrested were child predators and 15 were buyers of commercial sex (Johns). Undercover experts chatted online with the child predators, and posed as underage girls 13 or 14-year-of-age. Among those taken into custody were a Boy Scout leader, a corrections officer, an Army lieutenant colonel, and a member of a county ethics commission.

In May, 2019 the Richland County Sheriff’s Department conducted a six-hour operation at a local hotel, focusing on sex buyers using various websites to search for prostitution in the Columbia area.  The Sheriff thanked community partners who donated the use of a hotel room and cameras to record evidence against the suspects.

In August, 2019, the former South Carolina transportation commissioner was charged with soliciting a prostitute after he was arrested as part of a multi-agency internet sting that sought to catch “johns” and child predators.  The man was arrested after arriving at the location where he’d agreed to meet and pay $40 to an adult he thought was a prostitute. Instead, he had been communicating with an undercover officer over a known prostitution website. His arrest violated his probation, and he was sentenced to 18 months probation after pleading guilty to obstructing a federal investigation by telling an FBI informant to delete emails. The sentence included 45 days of home confinement and required 40 hours of community service.   One of the men caught was a Richland County Sheriff’s Department deputy charged with soliciting a minor and attempted criminal sexual conduct with a minor. He was immediately fired, would not be allowed a plea deal, and the state Criminal Justice Academy was notified so that he will never again work in law enforcement in South Carolina. The deputy was among 14 men who thought they were communicating with girls as young as 13. Five were arrested upon arriving to the agreed meeting spot. One arrested “traveler” drove 470 miles over seven hours from Florida, while another came from Georgia. Many of the men sent nude pictures as they solicited sex from a 15-year-old girl. Other “johns” charged with soliciting a prostitute included a 42-year-old National Guardsman and a 55-year-old American Airlines pilot. A 41-year-old mechanic was additionally charged with four counts of attempted murder after he tried to run over the four officers arresting him. The operation involved 12 law enforcement agencies, including the state attorney general’s office.

 

Key Partners

  • Richland County Sheriff’s Department
  • U.S. Attorney
  • South Carolina Attorney General’s Office
  • U.S. Secret Service
  • Department of Homeland Security

Key Sources

Reverse Stings:

Web Stings:

Shaming:

Neighborhood Action:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State South Carolina
Type County
Population 358020
Location
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